Out of all the holidays celebrated in the United States, New Year’s Eve has been my least favorite holiday. From the time I was a young teenager until recently, I found no spiritual significance to this holiday. I could not see the connection to Christmas despite what I was taught in church.
In fact, the whole Christmas story became increasingly unbelievable to me, particularly as I began studying Latin and ancient Rome. Many Christmas traditions come from the Roman winter Solstice festival of Saturnalia, which occurred on the Julian calendar from December 19 to 25. To celebrate the Solstice and rebirth of the sun, Romans would decorate their homes with evergreens and make resolutions for the New Year to the gods Saturn and Janus. By the third century, Saturnalia became a celebration of the rebirth of the sun god, Sol Invictus. After Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, which declared the divinity of Jesus, it soon followed that Saturnalia turned into Christmas.
Given this understanding of these holidays’ origins, I could no longer celebrate Christmas in good conscience as the birth of Jesus. I could, however, celebrate the winter Solstice, and Unitarian Universalism allowed that practice.
A UU Approach
Interestingly, Unitarians and Universalists (UUs) have been active over the last two centuries in reviving and promoting the celebration of Christmas through the exercise of charity and concern for others. That ethic appeals to me, and I wonder if UUs could do the same with New Year’s Day.
Might not we treat this holiday as a time to renew our commitments to changing and improving society as much as ourselves? Might not making resolutions be a spiritual practice for UUs?
Resolutions vs. Intention
Resolutions are often used interchangeably with intentions. While they are related, they are not the same. Intentions often evince a state of mind rather than a plan of action. Although resolutions require intention, intentions do not necessarily require resolve. On the other hand, resolutions rely on our human agency and often involve specific actions and goals. Thus, an intention would be to lose weight, whereas a resolution would be to lose 10 pounds by summer by changing one’s diet and walking at least one mile each day. Put simply, resolutions are intentions paired with commitment to change.
Resolutions are a form of Active Hope
The ancient practice of making resolutions for a new year is a form of active hope. Resolutions recognize our agency. Resolutions indicate that we are not resigned to a certain outcome and that we are not giving up. Resolutions reveal the belief that we can change.
Resolutions can also remind us that we are part of something greater than ourselves, which is the essence of spirituality. Thus, resolving to change is a deeply spiritual act that comes out of hope. At the same time, acting upon our resolutions generates hope.
This past year has tested my faith in human reason, agency, and decency. In the waning days of 2020, I struggled to maintain hope that we can learn from our mistakes, that we can build a better society, and that America might someday be what it purports to be for all people.
Oddly, 2020 was perhaps the first time that I actually looked forward to New Year’s Eve and I found myself turning to resolutions as a form of spiritual practice.
“Acting upon our resolutions generates hope.”
For 2021, I resolve to continue examining all those ideas, beliefs, and assumptions I hold that might not be serving me. By changing my mind, I can change my behavior. By changing my behavior, I encourage others to change. That chain reaction can change the world, which gives me hope.
What about you? What resolutions can you make that will help sustain and engender hope?
Since 2008, Karyn Bergmann Marsh has been an active member and leader of Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, in Maryland, where she’s served many roles including the Membership Committee Chair, Bylaws Committee Chair, Lay Worship Associate, Board Secretary and Trustee. Raised Catholic, Karyn found Unitarian Universalism in her 20s. Prior to seminary, she was an attorney and geologist specializing in environmental restoration, both of which influence her theology. Karyn recently relocated to Tulsa, following the unprecedented role of starting her internship virtually. Learn more about Karyn in this post.
Wednesday Community Connections Returns!
Wednesdays beginning January 27| 6 – 8:30 p.m. | bit.ly/WedCC
With the help of our members and friends, we’ve developed a new way to connect, recharge, and support each other. The evening will begin with a half-hour chapel service, we’re calling “Midweek Meditations,” and will move into various online activities after a brief dinner/social break. Please pre-register so we can be ready for you! You are welcome to join any or all of our programs each Wednesday evening.
6 p.m. Zoom room opens
6:15-6:45 p.m. Midweek Meditations Chapel
6:45-7 p.m. Break and Social Time
7-8:30 p.m. Programs in Zoom Breakout Rooms