Just one week into the new year, the resolutions we made in the light of Jan. 1 fireworks may already have lost their sparkle, too.
The books we vowed to read may still be on the shelf unopened, the rooms we resolved to de-clutter and tidy still a mess, the exercise routine we swore to undertake still in the planning. There’s something about that fresh, first page on the calendar that inspired us, but with the passage of each day, our resolve erodes, leaving us feeling more and more as though we missed the New Year’s boat and its opportunity to make a new start
Good news! The first of January is an arbitrary notion of when the year begins. It came to us by way of the Roman Empire, whose Julius Caesar decreed Jan. 1 to be the beginning of the new year in a political compromise, winning out over the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, the latter of which was his personal preference. Calendar reform under Pope Gregory tweaked the length of the year and leap days and was adopted in countries most influenced by the Roman (or western) Catholic Church; thus the eastern, or Orthodox tradition, still following the Julian calendar, often reflects Christmas and Easter dates different from ours.
This is but one of the culturally diverse notions of when the old year ends and the new one begins. The first full moon day in January (this year, Jan. 12) marks the celebration of the Mahayana Buddhist New Year, which, although more solemn, bears resemblance to our own in that it encourages reflection on one’s life and attention to important goals for improvement in the journey toward enlightenment. A fire ceremony sometimes invites individuals to write negative karma – the consequences of failures or poor choices – on papers, which are then burned to symbolize release.
With the new moon on Jan. 28, Chinese communities around the globe will welcome the New Year of the Rooster with celebrations ranging from three days to 15.
Homes are cleaned to sweep out any bad luck from the past year and make way for good. Families hold reunion feasts, honor deities and ancestors, and mark the event with fireworks and parades and parties and tokens of good health and fortune. So if 2017 no longer feels new, the lunar New Year offers a chance to begin again at the end of January.
Even though we’re likely still to be slogging through slush and snow, March brings another opportunity. The vernal equinox, the official start of spring when the length of daylight is equal to that of darkness, is on March 20. For Wiccan and other Pagan spiritual communities, it is Ostara, one of the eight great Sabbats that are sacred to mark the turning of the Wheel of the Year. For Baha’is and Zoroastrians, it is Naw Ruz or Norooz – New Year’s.
Among India’s 1.2 billion people, whose vast religious and cultural diversity places New Year’s celebrations from mid-February until late March and even into April, there are many rituals and traditions that help individuals, families, and communities to mark a new start.
For all of these and many more, there are seasonal and spiritual new beginnings when we celebrate what has been and what is yet to be, with new possibilities and the perennial emergence of new life.
If calendars are arbitrary, then New Year’s is in the mind and heart of the seeker. Any birthday, any new moon, new month, even any new week or new day can be a new beginning, another opportunity to begin that project, mend that relationship, get on the road to the degree or to health and wellness or just (just?!) being more the person that you long to be. It’s never too late to begin again, and every new beginning is a triumph over disappointment, defeat and despair, an opening, some of us would say, for grace, which makes all things possible.
As writer Anne Lamott puts it, “Grace is spiritual WD-40. It eases our way out of grippy, self-righteous stuckness,” and “We get to start a new, sillier, more self-forgiving day whenever we want to.
Yes, maybe we eat a tiny, tiny bit more candy than is ideal. Then? We start over again, and again, and again. Starting now. Ready, set, go!”