In my faith tradition the New Year is celebrated in the late summer or early fall. It was originally a religion founded in agriculture and so the oldest celebrations coincide with cycles in the agricultural year. The new year comes toward the end of the harvest (in theory), a period when it is natural to reflect on what went well, what needs to be changed, what you have some control over and where you need to entreat help from God. Obviously a lot had changed in the last five thousand or so years and so the function of the celebration and holiday is slightly different, but the core components of gratitude, respect, self-reflection, and intention remain. It is a nice period of time, not always easy, not really intended to be a big party but it is a great opportunity to spend some time with yourself, working on yourself, and “resolving” if you will.
During the New Year period in my religious practice you get a whole bunch of holidays all clumped up together. I think practically this was because you didn’t have a lot of time during the rest of the year to travel to population centers for festivals so it was a kind of get ‘em while you can practicality. You are called to start thinking about what you have been doing (right, wrong and other) about a month before you are expected to actually show up for public worship. Then comes the New Year, a couple of days of celebration, food, family, and gratitude for what you have, however much or little that may be. From there you spend ten days in preparation for judgment. That’s a hard word and a hard concept, but we all have things we can work on, ways in which we can do better. It is a period of time in which you are supposed to go to the people you have wronged in the last year and apologize. You don’t have to make it right, sometimes that is not possible, but you have to acknowledge and that alone can be very difficult. After that (and here I confess I pretty much drop off the map of religious participation) you get another harvest celebration and then a reset of the study process and start back at the beginning of the bible. It’s a very functional ritual that literally and figuratively gives you a chance to start again.
When my children were small we would go to the family focused events during the religious New Year. The faith leaders would play simple games with the children to try and teach them what are otherwise complex and sometimes disturbing concepts. My favorite was when they would have the children take turns throwing a beanbag at a target. They moved the target closer or further depending on the age of the child, always making sure it was just far enough way that they would never be able to hit the mark in the center. When all the children took a turn, and all failed to hit the mark that teachers would gather them together and explain that this was exactly what the holiday was all about: all year we try to hit the mark, we try to be good and do the right thing, we try to be the best we can be, and most of the time we get close but ultimately we miss exactly where we want to be. This holiday, this faith practice they would say, gives you as many chances as you want. You throw the beanbag, you miss your goal, you take another turn. Forever. You never run out of chances to try again to be a better person and do the right thing, it is never too late to do better. And, they would add, you don’t have to wait for the New Year to do this. Every day, every minute, every second you can try again.
When I was in the grocery store on New Year’s Eve the clerk asked me if I had my resolutions all set. I did not because I don’t look at the calendar change as the big moment when I get to plan the “new me.” I can do that any time; I should do that all the time. I didn’t figure that the person ringing up my groceries was interested in hearing my philosophy on resolutions and renewal, so I smiled and said I was working on it. That was true, the goal is to always be working on it. I understand that it is nice and useful to have a set period of time to use as a starting point for change, maybe that makes it a little easier to make the shift, you know as of X day I am going to start doing Y. I think that sometimes that also makes it a little harder to succeed with the change: I didn’t start doing Y when I said I would so whatever, why bother now. If every day is your X then it is an active opportunity to start whatever it is that you want to start, being whom you want to be, doing what you want to do. You don’t have to wait for the next big moment, every moment matters.
I like the New Year. I like the defined process of renewing, reflecting on what it means to get a little closer to the mark. Taking the time to be thoughtful about who you are and who you intend to be is important. Winter is a nice time to do this work, but anytime is a good time: spring, summer and fall work too. That’s my long point here, resolutions are good to have, they are about setting an intention for yourself but you don’t have to wait, there is no magic in making a change on a particular day. Every day is the most important day of your life, because it is the day that you are living, every day is worth starting again, every day is the right time to start new.
I hope that today, the first day of the new year, and everyday hereafter feels fresh, exciting, full of opportunity and gives you the power to be the best you have ever been. And if not, you always have the next day or the one after that or…you get the idea! Happy New Year!