Tens of thousands of people have contributed a wish. All those little scraps of hope will be tossed from rooftops in a blizzard of New Year’s Eve confetti. Initially, the heat from the crowd of revelers below will send the confetti floating up above the buildings. Then the wishes will flutter across the city, carried by the breeze.
A plea for a baby might fall on a planter by a midtown bistro; a request for successful cancer treatment might land on a windowsill in Chelsea; a bid for someone to love could end up on the 14th Street subway steps. And hopes for an end to covid-19 will surely fly everywhere.
Before the first dawn of 2022, most of those wishes will have been swept into trash bins along with tons of other New Year’s Eve detritus. But today, at the rock bottom of 2021, it seems perfectly logical to believe that writing out a wish and sharing it in a communal ceremony will give it more of a chance. Besides, for most of us, 2022 seems about as predictable as confetti in the wind.
We have an understandable craving for cosmic assistance these days. The pandemic and political instability have eroded our already fleeting sense of control, leaving many of us feeling extra vulnerable and shaky. We’re drowning in facts and stats and analyses, and yet those do nothing to mitigate the angst. That’s likely because the logical part of our brain tends to take a back seat in times of stress and we revert to emotional comfort and rituals.
So it’s little wonder that even science-loving people are writing notes to the universe, or paying good money for psychic readings, healing crystals or horoscope apps. I know I am. A few weeks ago, my friend (an upstanding person with an important job) recommended a psychic, and I couldn’t wait for an appointment. Even before we spoke, three other friends asked for her email. Did a call with a woman I’ll never meet predict a needed windfall or the answers to life’s vexing questions? No. But she did say things that comforted me in specific, helpful ways. For that, I’ll forgive the part where she told me I have totem animals and one of them is a mouse.
In my defense, 6 in 10 American adults accept one or more New Age beliefs such as psychics, astrology, reincarnation or the idea that spiritual energy can be found in objects, according to the Pew Research Center. And the $2.2 billion business of “psychic services” is not only well, but market research suggests the recent economic stressors have spurred consumers to turn to these services for financial and career advice.
Even if we aren’t believers, many of us shop as though we are. Anyone who’s been to an Urban Outfitters or a gift shop lately has seen those little “energy cleansing” kits with bundles of sage, quartz and dried flowers. Meanwhile, crystal shops are popping up throughout the United States promising a rock for whatever ails us. Bloomberg News reports that the market for these minerals fared better in the pandemic than diamonds.
And, no, it’s not all women buying this stuff, though we’re more likely to than men. However, men are fueling pandemic growth in online astrology. And they buy more lottery tickets than women do, which is a true leap of faith given the astronomical odds against winning. Lottery fans and sports bettors have superstitions about lucky shirts and losing streaks that rival astrology fantasies. Several states even deemed lottery sales essential businesses during the first pandemic lockdown. This was likely for budgetary reasons, but maybe also because, ironically, irrational hope is a particularly powerful antidote to total uncertainty.
We all know that New Year’s Eve is just a ceremonial fresh start. Little changes on Jan. 1 besides tax rates and frequent-flier status. But we stubbornly hang our hopes on this annual passage. And most Americans believe that 2022 will be better than 2021 — though they’re a bit less optimistic than a year ago, according to a recent Ipsos poll. I’m optimistic too — look at my horoscope: “Dear Cancer, you’ve been through many life tests, but finally, the tide will turn in your favor. You have so much to look forward to now and in the New Year.” Who wouldn’t take that over inflation warnings?
By mid-January, I might be buying books about the science of changing tiny habits. But, right now, isn’t it gratifying to believe in hopes cast into the midnight sky with thousands of others? Call it magical thinking ... or just an escape from our present hell of trying to make plans.
And if burning sage, or eating black-eyed peas, or carrying an amethyst helps keep us upright and moving forward, that’s good enough for now.