A million people will cram into New York City’s Time Square to brave temperatures close to 10 degrees (with no bathrooms!) in order to welcome the new year at the drop of a 12,000- pound ball.
I’ll be asleep. Unless neighbors are shooting fireworks.
As I write late morning on the 31st, already Australia, Japan, North and South Korea, the Philippines and China have partied.
I’ve always wondered what people are celebrating. Surviving a painful year? Hope of a better new one? Opening a clean page in one’s life? Making resolutions to “do better”? Just an excuse for partying?
“Psychology Today” magazine claims good luck rituals are part of the New Year celebration, an attempt to control fate. The Dutch eat New Year’s Eve donuts, because the circle symbolizes success. Greeks bake a special cake, hiding a coin inside. Get the slice with the coin and you’ve got good luck for the new year. Thousands of years ago the Chinese started shooting off fireworks to ward off evil spirits. The Japanese hold “forget-the-year parties” to wave goodbye to last year’s problems and get ready for a better new year.
“Everywhere, New Year’s is a moment to consider our weaknesses and how we might reduce the vulnerabilities they pose—and to do something about the scary powerlessness that comes from thinking about the unsettling unknown of what lies ahead. As common as these shared behaviors are across both history and culture, it’s fascinating to realize that the special ways that people note this unique passage of one day into the next are probably all manifestations of the human animal’s fundamental imperative for survival” (“Psychology Today”).
Maybe the magazine over-pyschoanalizes. But behind even innocently eating round donuts to have new year’s success, lies the desire to control one’s destiny, whether by warding off evil spirits with fireworks or resolutely waving goodby to last year’s problems with a party.
What about most Americans? Are we shooting rockets to celebrate another year of survival? Are we making resolutions to control our fate? Or are we mindlessly making noise and just resolving to be a better person?
“The earliest-known record of a New Year festival dates from about 2000 BC in Mesopotamia, where in Babylonia the New Year (Akitu) began with the new moon after the spring equinox (mid March) and in Assyria with the new moon nearest the autumn equinox (mid September)” (Encyclopaedia Britannica).
“Among ancient peoples the beginning of the year was determined by one of various events, such as the spring or autumnal equinox or the winter or summer solstice. In Egypt, for example, beginning about 2773 BC, the year began with the heliacal rising of Sirius, which coincided with the start of the flood period of the Nile and came not long after the summer solstice” (Encyclopedia Americana).
“Many ancient peoples…performed rituals to do away with the past and purify themselves for the new year. For example, some people put out the fires they were using and started new ones. The Celts celebrated the new year on November 1, marking the end of summer and the harvest, and the beginning of the cold, dark winter ahead. (This was a precursor to Halloween.) They built “sacred” bonfires to scare off evil spirits and to honor their sun god” (World Book).
“In early times, the ancient Romans gave each other New Year’s gifts of branches from sacred trees. In later years, they gave gold-covered nuts or coins imprinted with pictures of Janus, the god of gates, doors, and beginnings. January was named after Janus, who had two faces—one looking forward and the other looking backward” (World Book).
New Year’s celebrations clearly grew from pagan roots.
During my growing-up years in church, we held “Watch Night” services on New Year’s Eve. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica . . .
“The tradition of Watch Night may be traced to the early 18th century in Moravian churches, when churchgoers began marking the occasion with a vigil to reflect upon the year past and to contemplate the one to come. John Wesley adopted the practice for his Methodist followers, who held similar vigils monthly with the full moon. It was given new significance among African Americans on December 31, 1862, when, according to tradition, slaves in the Confederate states gathered in churches and private homes on the night before Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was expected to go into effect, pending his signing of the document. The soon-to-be-free slaves stayed awake all night and watched the night turn into a new dawn while waiting for news that the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued, thus making all the slaves legally free.”
Our “Watch Night” services didn’t celebrate what those slaves did. But we told how God had blessed us over the past year. We expressed our commitment to him in the coming year. And the midnight hour found us on our knees is prayer.
New Year’s Eve makes me anxiously wonder what it holds. Will my PLS worsen? Will my melanoma spread? Or will the Lord command, “Stop!”, as he said to the sea? Will my sense that the Spirit “spoke” his Word to me and for me hold true? (“I will not die but live and proclaim the works of the Lord”–Psalm 118:17). Will I be able to keep writing?
I’m reminded of another psalm–31. Twice David writes of anguish turned to assurance (31:1-8 and 31:9-24). One verse (really just part of a verse) leaps out at me yet again. David prays . . .
“My times are in your hand”
” . . . times” implies transience and change. Enemies may rise up. Adversity may strike. But not by chance. “My times are in your hand.”
I won’t eat a round donut for success. I won’t hunt for a coin in a cake for good luck. I won’t shoot fireworks to ward off evil spirits.
But I will say to the Sovereign, Loving Lord: “My times are in your hand.” And I’ll remember that that hand is nail-scarred for me.