The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



December 29, 2006

Happy New Year! Again...

Again, I say, because I feel like the January 1 New Year’s Day is actually the fourth I’ve observed since Labor Day. Labor Day? Well, the Tuesday after Labor Day was back-to-school-day when I was growing up. And memories of fresh jars of white paste, boxes of perfect crayons and packages of wide-ruled notebook paper still signal that something new and wonderful is about to begin. So early in September comes the first and oldest new year I know.

The second comes on the first Sunday in Advent, when we hear again the ancient call: “‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths’” (Isaiah 2:3). That just might be the ultimate new year’s resolution. I was in college, participating in campus ministry, when I really came to understand this new year as something quite apart from the champagne countdown-to-midnight of Dec. 31. It remains the most significant of my new years and makes me wonder, too, what’s behind churches holding worship services on the decidedly secular New Year’s Eve.

More about that soon, but first there’s my third new year, solstice, “at the turning of the year,” as it’s hauntingly sung by Priscilla Herdman, Anne Hills and Cindy Mangsen on the CD of that name, which I play with some ceremony on the shortest day of the year (Dec. 22, this year). I think of this as the instinctive new year, when we and all creation sense that the days of growing darkness have ended and that the Earth is spinning towards the light again.
So now to the “real” New Year’s, declared so in 153 B.C. by the Roman senate and condemned as paganism by early Christian church...but persisting as a time of revelry none-the-less (and perhaps explaining why some counter with a church service?). Not to have a date was a disaster for a 20-something, as I was when Johnny Mathis plaintively asked, “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?” Then there’s the New Year’s Day traditions of watching the Tournament of Roses Parade before (endless) bowl games or eating black-eyed peas for good luck.
But first, the night before when chances are you’ll join in a somewhat muffled chorus of “Auld Lang Syne,” the song found or written, or some of both, by Robert Burns, which—translated from the 16th century Scots dialect, asks “Should old acquaintances be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintances be forgot, and times long ago?”  What can we answer but, No!
And then, we, too, “take a cup of kindness yet..for times long ago.” Seems to me that’s an appropriate way to welcome every new day, every new year.


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