Have you ever wondered why the celebration of the New Year has become such an important tradition? Or when it was celebrated in the past? After doing a bit of digging, I was surprised to discover that the earliest New Year celebrations actually took place in Mesopotamia sometime around 2000 B.C. They were not held at the same time of year, though. Instead, the New Year was celebrated in mid-March, at the time of the vernal equinox. It wasn’t until Julius Caesar came along in 46 B.C. that the date of the celebration was fixed as January 1st, a custom which lasted until the 6th century. Because the celebration of the New Year was considered pagan and, thus, unchristian during medieval times, the Council of Tours (567 A.D.) abolished January 1st as the beginning of the year. From that time until 1582, New Year’s was celebrated on different days throughout Christian Europe. In some places it was celebrated on Dec. 25th (the birth of Jesus); in others it was celebrated on March 1, March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation), or even at Easter.1
While dates and traditions have changed over the years – even the dropping of the ‘New Year’s Ball’ in Times Square only dates back to 1906 – certain things remain constant. People throughout the world see the arrival of the New Year as an opportunity to set aside the challenges and difficulties faced in the past year. As we look back over the past 12 months, we seek to learn from what we have experienced. The Japanese even hold Bōnenkai (literally, “forget the year gathering”) parties, “to bid farewell to the problems and concerns of the past year and prepare for a better new one.”2 As we look ahead, we plan for positive change in the future. We make resolutions that we hope will help us to not only have healthier and happier years ahead, but will also help us to draw closer to God and become better people.
Pope Francis’ Recommended Resolutions
When Pope Francis met with Vatican employees and their families just before Christmas, he was mindful of this fact. Focusing on the word ‘care’, he outlined 10 different ways to help us draw closer to Christ and make positive changes in our lives. They are as follows:
- “Care for your spiritual life and your relationship with God, because that is the backbone of all that we do and are.”
- “Care for your family life, giving your children and your loved ones not only money but also time, attention and love.”
- “Care for your relationships with others, turning faith into life and words into good deeds, especially towards the neediest.”
- “Care for your speech, purifying your language from offensive words, vulgarities and the phrasebook of worldly decadence.”
- “Care for the wounds of the heart with the balm of forgiveness, forgiving those who have hurt us and healing the wounds that we have inflicted on others.”
- “Care for your job, doing it with enthusiasm and humility, with expertise, passion and a thankful soul praising the Lord.”
- “Care to step away from envy, lust, hate and negative feelings that devour our internal peace and turn us into destroyed and destructive people.”
- “Care to escape rancour, which leads us to revenge, and laziness which leads us to existential euthanasia.”
- “Care not to accuse others, which leads us to arrogance, and not to complain endlessly, which leads us to desperation.”
- “Care for our weakest brothers; the elderly, the sick, the hungry, the homeless and the foreign, because this is what we will be judged on.”3
As we reflect on his words, I invite you to join me in making ‘care’ a part of your New Year’s resolutions. And regardless of whatever you do and wherever you may go, I pray that our Lord will continue to shower you with abundant graces and blessings in all the days to come. Happy New Year, everyone!
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 Borgna Brunner, “A History of the New Year,” infoplease [online database]; available from http://www.infoplease.com/spot/newyearhistory.html; Internet; accessed 2 January 2015. The return to the January 1st date came about as a result of the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Some Protestant European countries did not adopt this calendar until as late as 1752; but since that time, January 1st has been regarded by the majority of the world as the beginning of the New Year. There are exceptions, however. Local or regional customs persist in countries such as in Israel, China, India, and in various native cultures in Latin America. In these places, the observance of traditions continues according to their own calendars.
2 David Ropeik, “Why We Really Celebrate New Year’s Day,” Psychology Today (Dec. 30, 2013); available from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-risky-is-it-really/201312/why-we-really-celebrate-new-years-day; Internet; accessed 2 January 2015.
3 Iacopo Scaramuzzi, “The Pope to Vatican employees: heal every wound and fault,” Vatican Insider (22 Dec. 2014); available from
http://vaticaninsider.lastampa.it/en/the-vatican/detail/articolo/francesco-francis-francisco-vaticano-vatican-38209/; Internet; accessed 2 January 2015.