This year my New Year’s Resolution is to celebrate New Year’s at a time more conducive to change and renewal—oh say, spring instead of the dark, dead of winter when I’m just coming off the sugar high of the holidays. Somehow I think we Gregorian calendar devotees have got this one all wrong.
Historically, New Year’s Day hasn’t always fallen on January first because our calendar hasn’t been a consistent entity. Factor in a few mythological gods, Roman emperors, and a pope or two. Add a dash of Protestant Reformation and you’ll find that in the past, the New Year occurred anywhere from January 1 to March 25. (Surprisingly, it wasn’t until 1752 that England and the American colonies began celebrating New Year’s on January 1st.) That’s nothing to say of the multiple cultures that celebrate it in recognition of their own calendars. And if you really want your head to spin, don’t forget all our dear southern hemisphere friends who experience the seasons opposite to us and whose Christmas and New Year’s celebrations include BBQs on the beach.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in my experience, making resolutions on January 1 is a bad idea.
Because there’s nothing particularly organic about celebrating the New Year this way. For most of us, it’s simply a function of the calendar and happens primarily because we’ve reached the end of the month and need to turn the page (or in my case, glue magnets on the back of my 2012 office-sized calendar from Target and stick it to the side of the refrigerator.) Think about it—there is no seasonal change or religious celebration that would motivate us to make resolutions; it’s simply a cultural obligation. Or, in my experience, the result of the guilt from eating too much, exercising too little and overspending in the last six weeks since Thanksgiving.
But as we’ve all experienced, guilt and obligation really aren’t enough to produce effective change—especially when the bed is so warm at 5:30 and the floor is so cold. I think this may be one reason why so many of our resolutions fall flat (statistics show that only 10% of them will actually survive the year.) We feel compelled by the turn of the calendar instead of something greater; and we insist on making change in the most difficult of circumstances, relying on our own will, ability, commitment, or support group to enact that change. Really, we are simply setting ourselves up for failure.
But what if making resolutions came at a more productive time, a time more in tune with natural and spiritual renewal?
Think about the Jewish New Year celebration in the Old Testament. Rosh Hashanah (or the Feast of the Trumpets, Lev. 23:24) signaled the beginning of the High Holy Days and called the people to ten days of private reflection and repentance. It culminated in Yom Kippur also known as The Day of Atonement. This was the one day a year that the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to make sacrifice for the people; it was also the day that a scapegoat was driven from the camp to symbolize the removal of their sins and failings. So then, after these observances, the people could walk freely into the New Year knowing that their sin was forgiven and that they had been renewed.
In this case, their New Year’s resolutions were meant to be inspired by repentance and redemption; they were never intended to be the path to them.
I’m not advocating a return to the Jewish calendar—I think Paul addressed that a couple millennia ago (Rom. 14:5-6)—but I am suggesting that maybe our resolutions would have more sticking power if they came after a period of reflection, repentance and turning to God to enable that change. For me that’s Easter. Not only does Easter follow a period designed to highlight human inability, it celebrates the perfection and sufficiency of Christ to effect change in us. Because we all know, there’s nothing like a good Resurrection to remind us of our physical weakness and the impossibility of true renewal apart from divine intervention.
So this year, I’m blissfully ignoring New Year’s resolutions. Sure, I’ll stop my holiday binging and I might even enact a few schedule adjustments. But for me at least, the true reason for change doesn’t come just because I flip the calendar. And the true power to change doesn’t come that way either.