What is now celebrated as New Year’s Eve was once a night of mourningfor the dying year. Today, in a rush to deny any sign of life’spassing—and thus mortality itself—Americans head straight for the partyinstead. Yet HIV has taught us that renewed possibility and purpose areoften found only by confronting death. When we don’t stop—for even afew moments—to solemnly reflect on life’s endings, life itself can losemeaning.

The beaches of Rio de Janeiro fill each New Year’s Evewith worshipful revelers who bring lighted candles, flowersand perfume and who danceand bathe in the surf to seek favor from theAfrican sea goddess, Iemanja—who legend says, “chooses the men she isto take on the bottomless journey to the depths of the sea.”

Perhapsthe key to a truly joyous 2006, one filled with special meaning andsecond chances, lies not just in looking ahead, but in looking back totraditions as timeless as this. They have carried generations throughthe long night and into the dawn of a new year.