The Most Liminal Night of Them All

It’s fitting to be launching this blog on New Year’s Eve, because it is, arguably, the most liminal night of them all, when we transition from the old year to the new. When I studied Folklore and Mythology in college, we learned that most superstitions and rituals develop around “liminal stages”, the rites of passage–birth, marriage, death–that signify major life transitions.

In a world that moves faster by the hour, it seems like all of life is a transitional stage. It’s definitely felt that way for me lately; in 2010 I became a wife after 30+ years as a solo entity, and moved to Miami Beach after 14 years in New York. I’ve discovered that change doesn’t come in one moment (not when the priest pronounces you man and wife or when the plane touches down through the humid air), but through the series of tiny alterations we make every day…the weeks of planning or packing, the forms that need filling out even though you keep getting your address and marital status wrong.

Even without such major life events, we’re all works in progress, all working towards a degree, a better job or a better understanding of our current job, towards finding true love or defining ourselves within a relationship or family. We’re all, constantly, changing.

Change is exciting but it’s scary, raising countless questions–are we making the right choice, is all the effort worth it, and what will get lost in transition? (In my case, it was a watch I was given to celebrate a milestone at one of my first jobs in New York, which mysteriously disappeared en route to Miami. Even weirder is the loss of my identity as a single lady; I love being married but every time someone says something like “at your wedding” or “your husband”, I look around to see who is being addressed.)

It’s precisely because people get anxious around liminal stages, and the questions they raise, that cultures develop rituals designed to bring comfort, protection, and luck. New Year’s is a prime time for these traditions; some Southerners cook black-eyed peas and collard greens to invite cash (the peas represent coins, the greens, paper money), and some Spanish cultures eat 12 grapes at midnight, one for each month of the year. My family is Greek so we throw pomegranates on our doorstep to invite abundance, and sit down to a meal in which a lucky quarter (wrapped in tinfoil for hygiene) is hidden inside a meat pie. (That’s me showing off the chicken version I made to ring in 2010.) Whoever finds the quarter is guaranteed a good year, an extra little burst of confidence with which to face the unknown future.

That’s the point of rituals, and of this blog–to invite luck, to celebrate a given moment, and to use traditions to do what they always have–to give yourself the tiniest sense that you can control what happens to you, even if that’s just an illusion.

In case you didn’t happen to major in Folklore and Mythology, opting for something infinitely less practical like, say, economics or pre-med, the world liminal comes from the Latin “limen”, meaning threshold. I see liminal stages as doorways we pass through on our way to the next adventure (and the next transition). So here’s to opening the door to 2011 wide. And maybe even smashing a pomegranate on it. Happy New Year!

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