New Year’s Day is kind of like a collective birthday — the common passing of another year. In Jonathan Edward’s day and place, Election Day was one of the festive days of the year. In George Marsden’s biography is found this choice quote from 1725.
Thus our elections are times of pleasure and rejoicing; and what an influence has it on the mind of the youth all over the Colony, to think this time is by general agreement made a time of mirth. How uneasy are they if they are alone and not in company, and han’t opportunity to be merry as well as others; how extraordinarily unnatural and unpleasant does serious business and solitude seem at such a time, which would seem pleasant at another time; and how does it promote mirth, to think that the whole country are then merry. This abundantly convinces me of the rational foundation of sabbaths, and holy days of fasts and thanksgivings. (page 105)
I am struck by the phenomenology of solitude-against-a-backdrop. In the context of an ordinary day, life holed up in a dusty library seems like heaven to many of us. But doing so while knowing that the whole nation is dressed up, chatting gayly, playing games, singing, feasting, and dancing, is unbearable — though it would seem pleasant at another time.
The social nexus is foundational. If one were the sole survival of a nuclear wipeout, would making music on the empty town square, or attaining scholarship in vacant libraries, still bring any pleasure? Clearly not.
The holiday is a representation of this reality, i.e. a vivid re-presenting of a reality that is latent at all times.
Solitude is pleasurable when the context is the possibility of its negation.