New Year’s Day is Renewal and Rejoicing
by Maggie Lynch
January 1, 2023
There are so many wonderful holidays during the Winter. December brings a plethora of opportunities to celebrate, including Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa among others. All of these are holidays of reflection, preparation, and celebration. For me, the culmination of all that reflection is New Year’s Day. On New Year’s Day, if I’ve prepared sufficiently, I step into the year with knowledge of the past and hope for the future. That is why it is not only my favorite winter holiday, but my favorite holiday of the entire year.
How December Holidays Help Me Reflect and Prepare for the New Year
I was raised in a Catholic home until age ten. My father, who was the primary spiritual leader in our home, left the Catholic church after Vatican II and joined the Methodists. In any case, Christmas was always a huge celebration for our family and we always gathered with many aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. I still have many fond memories of those celebrations. However, I’d like to share two December holidays outside of Christmas Day that still have left a special imprint on me as an adult.
Los Posadas. As a child growing up in Southern California, more than once I participated in Los Posadas. This is celebrated throughout Mexico and Central America. It honors the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of lodging. Posadas means Inn in Spanish. During each night of this nine-day festival, a small child dressed as an angel leads a procession through towns and cities. Children wear gold robes and carry candles along with pictures of Mary and Joseph. Adults follow, many of them playing music, as they stop at houses to ask for lodging. When they are refused lodging per the original story, they read Bible passages and sing Christmas carols. Following the procession, mass is held each night, followed by the breaking of a piñata, usually shaped like a star in honor of the one that led the three wise men to Jesus’ birth site.
My cherished memories of the times I participated in Los Posadas, both as a child and a teen, are primarily of feeling I was part of something important and it made the meaning of Christmas more present to me in terms of the difficult journey to find a place to birth a baby that would become the symbol of Christianity forever after. Instead of focusing on the commercialism of toys, I focused on the story of Jesus birth and how that journey still connects even in modern times.
Winter Solstice. In college I learned about the numerous pagan rituals that celebrate different seasons of the year. This time of year, the celebration is of the Winter Solstice. Where I have always hated the winter and how it gets progressively darker, celebrating the Winter Solstice (often called Yule) provided me with perspective. It is the darkest day of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere) when the sunlight is at its lowest. The European pagan ritual celebrates the “rebirth” of the sun and the beginning of welcoming back longer days of sunlight. It is viewed as a time for energy renewal and introspection.
Historically, Yule was celebrated by feeding a large oak tree into the fireplace. The tree would be cut down on the Winter Solstice and the yule log would be slowly pushed into the flames during the 12 days of Christmas. That ritual became the basis for the modern yule log that’s decorated with candles and berries, and generally placed on a mantle or altar. Other rituals today use of evergreen boughs, holly, ivy, and mistletoe in the home, which were believed to be a way of harnessing the life and protective power of these plants. Sonargöltr – the germanic pagan’s sacrifice and roasting of a wild boar – is thought to be the basis for today’s traditional Christmas ham in many American homes.
Solstice celebrations are not only from European traditions. Many ancient peoples the world over celebrate the “turning of the wheel” as seasons changed during the year. Because I grew up in Southern California, I was particularly introduced to the solstice celebration of Zuni and Hopi Native American tribes in northern Arizona. Their solstice festival lasts 16 days. Traditionally, it’s viewed as a time for purification and, for the Hopi, it includes prayers, supplications, a passing down of stories from elders in the tribe, and concludes with a feast the day after the Winter Solstice, December 22.
It includes a ceremony to lure back the sun god, who is believed to have traveled away from the tribes during the winter. At the feast, on December 22, tribe members dress up in masks and costumes to represent Kachina spirits and perform dances. This represents the belief Kachina spirits come to earth every year at the start of the winter solstice and stay until mid-July. Their purpose is to bring messages from the gods and good fortune to the tribes they visit. Traditionally, children are given dolls that represent the Kachina spirits as gifts.
Additional Preparation for the New Year
My preparation for the new year falls into three categories: 1) Preparation of my soul; 2) Organizing my year by making both broad and specific goals; and 3) Calendaring all the tasks I need to do to reach those goals.
The preparation of my soul in the days leading up to the New Year takes in both ancient and current rituals. In addition to participation in community celebrations mentioned above, I also undertake a thoughtful reviewing my spiritual beliefs and how I keep them up. My personal beliefs have diversified and deepened over the years as I learn and read more. This time is a way for me to recommit to those beliefs that define my moral compass and try to answer the ongoing questions of why I am here, what I am meant to do, and what I’m actively doing to make sure I’m still on the right path.
A re-examination of how I participate in community with others. My life involves many different communities–from spiritual to secular. I have a church community, a family community, a writing community, an educational community, a dance community, and friends that fit into none of those. They are all important to me. It can be overwhelming and managing all that time can become a stressor itself.
Most of all I often need to remind myself that community means both giving and receiving. I’m known to expend a lot of energy trying to do everything myself and not reaching out for help. Part of that is because I’m the oldest of nine children and have always been the one who had to “fix it”–whatever “it” is. I was brought up with a common edict of many families. That is to not make myself a “burden” on others. Instead to prove my worth by always giving. That was reinforced with religious teachings of “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
I’m not sure when I learned about embracing the other side of giving (probably from friends who had made this same journey). That is to let others have that same gift of giving by allowing myself to be a joyful receiver. That constantly forces me to re-examine the concept that allowing others to give is NOT me being a burden. I’ve become better at that, though it is still a difficult journey.
Setting goals for 2023
As I write this, on the 29th of December, I am still trying to wrestle my goals into realistic action. I always reach for more than I can possibly accomplish. And that means that at the end of the year I’m always disappointed that I didn’t accomplish everything. On the other hand, I know that if I play it safe and under-promise, I will wonder what I might have accomplished had I set higher goals. Seeing the insanity of this no-win approach is the only thing that finally gets me to put something down.
The past three years has been especially challenging for me in terms of increased family obligations, more stress on time and finances, and the desire to still write while balancing all of these needs. The reality is that no one knows what life is going to bring in the new year. There is no doubt that something will happen (good or bad) and I’ll be forced to pivot and give up something and embrace something else to keep all the balls in the air and continue to move forward.
For this year, I have two related personal mental health goals. One is to adhere to an often said phrase: Embrace the journey, not the destination. It is easy to get caught up in the destination in a way that does not allow me to learn or to find more creative options. It is also easy to worry about all the “what ifs” when I get to the destination and that only creates stress. When I’ve simply embraced the journey in the past, I end up in a better place creatively, spiritually, and often with more opportunities than I could have imagined in the beginning.
A part of that first goal is the second goal: Pivot without guilt. I do pivot quickly and often. It is the story of my life. However, in doing so I must let something go–my timeline to accomplish something, my vision of the end goal, the importance I placed on something else. In that letting go, I almost always feel guilty for that–for not finding a way to make both things happen. For example, my goal for 2022 was to write three books. Because of many family change and responsibilities and taking on a new job, I was only able to write one. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty for not getting to the other two and asking myself if perhaps I had only slept less, wrote faster, didn’t do some other task, would I have made it. The answer is likely no I would not have made it.
The final step is to calendar my goals. This year I have a part-time job of 25 hours per week. This means that a large swath of hours are already spoken for and I have to work around that to do all the other things in priority order. That priority is first family responsibilities, then a combination of writing and community responsibilities. All that must be done while managing my diet, exercise, and sleep.
The calendar is critical to me. It helps keep me cognizant that there really is only 24 hours in a day. In addition to specific tasks or work that must be done everyday, I also calendar time for keeping healthy. I have specific times for exercise–Nia on Monday and Wednesday, tap dancing on Thursday, and at least half an hour of walking on all other days. I’ve also found it is important to leave space for nothing–space that is not during sleeping time. I need that nothing space to ponder, to meditate, to regroup, or to literally do nothing for a while. If every minute is scheduled with something I must do, I become exhausted.
Why is New Year’s Day my favorite holiday? Because that is when I have to be done with all this preparation. That is when I step out with hope and energy into the new year. It is one day where I feel ready to move forward. It is the day before anything can go wrong to change all that I prepared. It’s a magical day of accomplishment and forward momentum.
I hope you can step into the new year with hope and a feeling of accomplishment as well. I pray that you will also have a plan to pivot when you must. Planning to pivot makes it easier to not stop the momentum for long periods of time. Finally, I ask that you give your self the chance to fall and get up, to make mistakes and recover. Most of all remember you are in community and to reach out to that community for help. I leave you with this final reminder.
Happy New Year 2023!
Maggie Lynch is the author of 27 published books. Her fiction tells stories of people making heroic choices one messy moment at a time. Her novels span women’s fiction, SF & Fantasy, suspense, and romance. She is currently working on a contemporary Upper Middle Grade children’s series that features foster children and their roads to success. Her current nonfiction provides authors with information and tools for self-publishing success. Prior nonfiction books were around online learning pedagogy, technology, and systems management. You can check out her personal website at maggielynch.com