New Year

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(HOST) Commentator Madeleine Kunin is looking forward to a Happy New Year – and she’s not afraid to say so.

(KUNIN) This season there was a public argument between religious conservatives and others whether the greeting “Happy Holidays” downgrades the religious meaning of Christmas.

I welcome “Happy Holidays” as an acknowledgement that we live in a pluralistic society, but let’s leave that debate for next year.

The good news is that there is no debate about “Happy New Year.”

That’s how we say hello to friends and strangers alike, giving and accepting the greeting like a small present we exchange in the first gray days of January 2006.

While the greeting is generic, appropriate for believers and atheists, it can mean different things to different people, depending on how it’s said, and the conversation that may follow.

For some, “Happy New Year” is not complicated. It’s an optimistic greeting, filled with hope for a happy new year – a new beginning, a better world, a second chance.

For others,”Happy New Year” is said with a note of caution. Will it really be happy?

Can we look forward to a better world in these times-when soldiers and civilians continue to get killed in Iraq, when many victims of Katrina are still homeless, when the arctic tundra is disappearing, and genocide continues in Sudan?

Some new year greeters make a distinction between a personal Happy New Year and a global Happy New Year.

Looking forward to happiness in our own lives seems more possible, than creating a more happy world.

Babies will be born, weddings will be celebrated, we will get new jobs, new houses, college degrees, and have good times with friends and families.

These events we can control, visualize, look forward to.

Global events seem to be beyond our control.

When we say “Have a Peaceful New Year” we feel a sense of longing – peace is what we hope for, but are not sure we can realize.

Yet, the mere exercise of saying “a peaceful year”, whether we’re convinced or not, gives us a small lift.

Whatever the state of the world, the new year gives us the chance to wish for something better, in our own lives, in the lives of others.

Greeting one another with “Happy New Year” links us together with three simple words that mean more than a simple hello.

“Happy New Year” means we care about others. We move beyond the concern for our own happiness to the happiness of friends, neighbors, even strangers.

Happy New Year conveys hope and optimism.

Leaving the 2005 old man behind, leaning on his cane, and greeting the bouncing baby of 2006 makes us believe that the future will be better, and that we have the power to make it so.

Happy New Year.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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