Happy New Year!
The celebration of the new year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. The Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon after the Vernal Equinox (first day of spring), so the Babylonian new year is sometime late in March. In Egypt, the Nile river signaled a new beginning for the farmers of the Nile as it flooded their land and enriched it with the silt needed to grow crops for the next year. This happened near the end of September.
The Roman emperor Julius Caesar, in 46 BC, established what has come to be known as the Julian Calendar. It established January 1 as the start to the new year. But to synchronize the new calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for 445 days (and you thought last year was long!). January is symbolized by the Roman god Janus, who is pictured with two heads. One looks forward, the other back, symbolizing a break between the old and new.
There are many traditions commemorating the new year, many of which involve food. Many cultures believe anything in the shape of a ring symbolizes something coming full-circle. The Dutch believe donuts are to be eaten for breakfast of a new year. In many parts of this country, black-eyed peas and hog jowls are traditionally eaten, for they represent prosperity. My German-inspired family tradition was always to have pork and sauerkraut (cabbage) as a symbol of wealth and prosperity.
There are many other traditions people and cultures use to mark the holiday:
- The Japanese hang a rope of straw across the front of their houses to keep out evil spirits and bring happiness and good luck. They also have a good laugh as the year begins to get things started on a lucky note.
- In West Bengal, in northern India, the people like to wear pink, red, purple and white flowers. Women favor yellow, the color of spring.
- Hindus leave shrines next to their beds so they can see beautiful objects when they wake up to the new year.
- In Vancouver, British Columbia, Canadians enjoy the traditional polar bear swim, to enter the new year with eyes wide open.
- In almost every English-speaking country, the song “auld lang syne” is sung, which literally translated means “good old days”
One long-standing tradition of the season is the making of New Year’s resolutions. That tradition also dates back to the early Babylonians. The early Babylonian’s most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. Popular modern resolutions might include the promise to lose weight or quit smoking.
Did you make a resolution? How many of them were about making yourself better? Lose weight, start exercising, stop some destructive habit…But did you know how long most resolutions last? 20% are broken in the first WEEK! And by the end of January, 80% of resolutions are put out to the curb. Do you know why?
Laura Berman Fortgang of Shine Magazine gives ten reasons we are not able to stick to resolutions:
- You haven’t made room in your life for a new priority.
- You’re trying to change something that is a symptom of a bigger issue.
- You’re changing something because you think you should change it (or someone has told you to change it) –not because you want to change it.
- You’ve chosen a goal that’s too big.
- You haven’t learned to say “no” to people and projects that’ll distract you.
- You don’t set up the structure for making change happen.
- You don’t seek out someone to hold you accountable.
- You let the resolution rule your life.
- You don’t take consistent action.
- You don’t celebrate the small victories.
Well I have good news for you! Your church wants to help. We already have in place Celebrate Recovery, which is a great place for recognizing that there are parts of your life that you do not control, but that control you; and then gaining the tools to overcome those things. I encourage you to consider it as a part of your resolution-keeping.
One of my favorite, and most meaningful traditions comes from the Jewish celebration of New year, called Rosh Hashanah. The first day of this celebration begins solemnly, with a remembrance of teshuva, or repentance, returning, where one is genuinely sorry for the sins of the past year, and repents of them. These can be anything from stealing or lying, but usually include a repentance for ignoring Sabbath (and yes, that means all of you who skipped church on January 1!).
The afternoon of the first day brings the practice of tashlich, or literally “lost bread”. Here, the person takes stale bread, representing sin, lost opportunity, or unfulfilled potential, from their pockets, and, beside a body of moving water (a river or stream) casts the bread upon the water, signifying the forgiving of those sins as God carries them away. A part of the readings during tashlich comes from Micah 7:18-19:
Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and forgives transgression for the remnant of His heritage?
He does not maintain His wrath forever, for He desires to do kindness. He will again show us mercy; He will suppress our iniquities; and You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.
This month we have been focusing in our Sunday services on the sacrament of baptism: that ancient symbol of God’s calling, claiming, and cleansing. I invite you to remember tashlich as we discuss baptism: how the waters of God’s mercy move in us and through us, calling us to cast our lost opportunities into the deep sea of his amazing grace.
So as we begin this new year, let us take a moment to contemplate our sins of the past, of opportunities lost; and as you remember your baptism, remember that God has provided for those sins and lost opportunities through His Son. Furthermore, God has a future promise for us that they will be gone forever, in the coming of His everlasting Kingdom.
-Rev. Carl Palmer
Associate Pastor- Central