I have often wondered why our culture ended up with New Year’s in the middle of nowhere chronologically speaking. By that I mean there is really absolutely nothing to mark the transition except an arbitrary mark on a calendar. Other cultures have clear and explicit reasons for the new year beginning. Judaism ties the new year to the events connected with the Passover. Islam connects it to Mohammed’s return to Mecca. Agricultural societies use planting season as a mark for a new year.
But us, well, we get a new year beginning a week after Christmas. If we didn’t need to replace calendars, we could easily miss it, except for the parties and so on that go with it. But even they would be more fun if we had them at a time when we weren’t already partied out from Christmas.
I did some quick research and discovered that according to some sources, the Romans started the practise of using January 1 as New Years Day. The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, who is portrayed as having two faces so he can see both forward and backward and therefore that makes him a god who can split time into new and old years. But even with that insight, our new year is an entirely artificial and somewhat pointless holiday in our culture. It doesn’t mark the time when I need to get busy planting the crops I need for food next winter. It doesn’t mark the transition of a season. It commemorates no significant date in our cultural history. It just sits there, requiring us to change calendars and remember to change the last digit of dates. As one of the guys said after worship one day, “The only thing New Year’s does is make you a year older–and I really don’t want that much.”
Perhaps some of my discontent with New Years comes about because many seem to think that I need to preach a sermon about the holiday–and given the realities I have just pointed out, there isn’t a whole lot to say about it in a sermon. There are a few sentimental poems and stories that I could toss in; I could reflect on the past year and hope for better in the year to come; I could suggest a list of resolutions we would all benefit from; I could even proclaim the coming year “The Year of (Something)” and call people to commit to that.
Of course, all this runs smack dab into one of the painful realities of New Year’s worship services: the worship service after Christmas is easily the worst attended worship service of the whole year. I have often suggested that people who attend worship the Sunday after Christmas are probably going to receive a major reward when they reach heaven. Clergy–well, we get paid to be there so we probably won’t get a reward, unless it is for figuring out what to say that isn’t trite, sentimental or pointless.
So, again this year, I will struggle with what to preach on New Year’s. I may deal with the New Year and then again, I may follow my more traditional approach of ignoring the day in favour of something more Biblical and more significant. That I will work out later–I have time still–not a lot but still some time to figure what I will be doing.
But for now, since New Years is coming and it does mark a change in the calendar, I will follow protocol and wish you a Happy New Year.
May the peace of God be with you.