So… Christmas has come and gone, and we are in the “New Year.”
I don’t know about you, but I really don’t buy into the whole “New Year, new beginning” thing.
After all, the date we set for New Years is completely arbitrary. There is no reason for January 1 to be the start of the new year.
I find very little, if any difference between 11:59 pm on 31 December and 12:01 am on 1 January.
In the Middle Ages, the “New Year” has begun on a variety of different dates:
1 March, 25 March, Easter, 1 September, and 25 December.
Prior to that, during the time of the Roman Empire, the year had at one point been 1 May, but became fixed at 1 January when the Julian calendar was adopted in 45 BC.
The switch to 1 January came as the Gregorian calendar began to be adopted across Europe, beginning in 1582.
This new calendar also introduced “Leap Years”, more accurately adjusting the length of the solar year. It also kept the date of Easter relatively constant, within a span of a few weeks, since this date is designated as being the first Sunday following the full moon following the Spring Equinox.
But other than that… there really is no reason why the year needs to begin on 1 January.
Really… winter has just begun two weeks ago, and spring is still three months off; having the year begin with the changing of the seasons would make more sense — and in ancient times, it did.
The fact is that we already have several other arbitrary “years” that we deal with…
- the school year
- hockey (or football, baseball, or whatever) season.
- the tax year
- the church year
The church year (or Liturgical year) is an odd one. It begins with Advent, four weeks before Christmas. It continues through Christmastide (technically, “Christmas” lasts until Epiphany — 6 January), a period of “common time”, then Lent and Easter, Pentecost, and another period of “ordinary time.”
Note: whether we look at history through a “pagan” lens or a “church” lens, celebrations, feasts, and holidays have been essential to the calendar of every society; whether they worshipped nature, a variety of pagan deities, or followed more orthodox traditions of God or Allah, life revolved around these celebrations.
And even though many people today are withdrawing from participating in organized religion, and declare religion to be irrelevant, most are quite happy to continue enjoying the dozen or so days off that “the church” has embedded into our culture.
This is the time of year when most of the world celebrates “New Year’s”, and many people see this as a time for new beginnings.
How many of you made a resolution for New Year’s?
I didn’t. I haven’t for may years. I never kept them when I did, so now I just don’t bother.
The way I see it, if you want to make a change in your life, you don’t need to wait for some “special” day to come along. Whatever day you choose to make that change, THAT is the special day you were waiting for.
It comes down to your own resolve.
So, why do we in the church mark this time of year as “special”?
Okay… Christmas. I get Christmas.
Even though all the evidence suggests that Jesus was more likely born in the Spring, and that the December date was the adoption of a newly-established Christian calendar juxtaposed in place of the current pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and the Winter Solstice, Christmas as we know it is essentially the starting point of the church year.
I would also point out, as I do whenever I get the chance, that the very familiar “Twelve Days of Christmas” actually begins with Christmas Day, and ends with Epiphany.
Perhaps you have been following SooToday or other media outlets and have seen various versions of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” — features highlighting good deeds or other celebrations.
Or perhaps you noticed the retail sector offering “Twelve Days of Christmas” sales and specials.
But the reality is that the twelve days start counting on the 25th, and that the time between Christmas Day and Epiphany (6 January) is still regarded as “Christmas”.
Some Eastern Christians, especially Ukrainians, celebrate Christmas itself on 6 January — it is often called “Little Christmas”.
But enough of the history lesson. (Can you tell I’m a teacher?)
There are a couple of bigger questions we can raise here…
1) Why do we make such a big deal of the “New Year”, and;
2) How are you celebrating this “new” year?
As for the former question — I think that, as a society, and perhaps more intrinsically as humans, we have a need to have such starting points… and restarting points… and try-again points.
Have any of you watched the movie City Slickers, with Billy Crystal?
He plays Mitch, who with his two best friends takes an annual guys’ vacation. This year, suffering from a mid-life crisis, Mitch and the guys go on a real, rootin’-tootin’ cattle drive.
As they are riding along, they are talking about their lives. One friend, Phil, considers himself a failure. He married a woman who constantly nags him, he works for her father, and he was caught cheating on her.
As the guys try to convince Phil that things aren’t as bad as they seem, Mitch reminds Phil that when they were kids playing sandlot baseball, and the ball would get stuck in a tree they would call “do-over!” Mitch goes on to explain that Phil’s life is now a clean slate, and he gets a “do-over.”
Although, to be honest, I don’t fully subscribe to the do-over thing.
I do believe we get a chance or two to start-over, but maybe not a complete do-over… more of a “this-time-I’ll-try-something-different.” or a “maybe-I-need-to-make-a-change” sort of thing.
And again, I don’t believe we have to wait for New Years’ Eve, or any other date in particular. We have many opportunities to change the circumstances that have not worked out for us, to try something different.
For some it might be a change of careers, for others getting out of a bad relationship.
Perhaps for some it means changing their outlook, becoming more involved in volunteer work and helping others.
Some may wish to improve their health, maybe getting a bit more exercise or perhaps losing a few pounds.
There may be some who want to take that dream vacation.
Whatever the change you want, you don’t need to wait for a special day. But since we find ourselves celebrating the New Year, this would be as good a time as any.
As for the latter question — how are you celebrating the new year…
Maybe you are quite satisfied with your lives, and don’t feel any great need for change. But… life is all about change, isn’t it?
Part of the problem is that so many of us try to resist change. We grow comfortable and content with things the way they are, but… we cannot stop change from happening.
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
- George Bernard Shaw
To my way of thinking, we should be prepared to meet and adapt to new and changing circumstances.
So, if nothing else, New Years’ is a reminder, in case we have forgotten and become complacent with the way things are, that we need to examine our lives and the traditions and practices we keep, and make any necessary changes.
“I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.”
- Stephen Hawking
I believe one problem that many people have is they do not believe that they can make the necessary changes, that the changes required are too much.
We don’t have to make big changes. Change happens over time, buy making smaller, incremental changes.
We didn’t go from the telegraph to the cell phone overnight.
Another problem is that people are often reluctant to make a change, for fear they might make a mistake.
And yeah, that could happen. Or… it could be the right thing to do.
You’ll never know until you try.
But… that’s just my opinion.
ps: Happy New Year!