Monday 1 January 2018

New Year's Day

I've always loved Christmas, both for the fact that it is the season when truth and goodness and light in a completely pure and unadulterated form entered the world (I could sense this even when very young as I think all children can), and also because it is the time when families get together and there is (usually) a feeling of real good will that may not be so prominent at other times of the year. I have even gone back to believing in Father Christmas as a kind of nature spirit representing the best of paganism, but baptised and Christianised as all paganism now must be if it is not to lapse into an atavistic spiritual dead end. Of course, I don't mean I literally believe in Father Christmas, but as a personification of a spiritual truth, why not? Now that my children are getting older Christmas is not so magical a time for them, and therefore me, as it was when they were younger, but it still maintains something of its wonder. That wonder is centred on light in darkness which is why winter is the natural season for Christmas.

By the same token, I've always disliked New Year's Eve and all the hyped up celebrations that surround it. This is a relatively recent thing, I think. The excessive nature of it certainly is. January 1st only became a public holiday in England in 1974 (presumably to allow people to recover from their hangovers). What are we actually supposed to be celebrating? I do understand that the idea of a fresh start and new beginning does have some meaning but this must be a spiritual thing, an entry into a higher realisation of life, real growth and opening up to a deeper reality, not just a hope for the same as before but with greater personal happiness and prosperity.

Because we live in a world without God, we live in a world without meaning. Consequently we try to project meaning onto things that don't have it such as the idea of a new year that begins at a totally arbitrary time, not linked to any astronomical or natural or religious factor. A purely materialistic thing with no inner meaning. Therefore our celebrations are empty, and I imagine we subconsciously know this which is why they revolve so much around excessive noisiness, drunkenness and false bonhomie.

The instinct to celebrate the new is a good one but it is totally misplaced when directed at the new year as it now is. This is yet another example of a materialization of a spiritual truth, another example of the corruption of the good. That is why it is fundamentally so empty and needs copious amounts of alcohol to sustain it. I'm not against wine and beer and so on. I think they are one of God's great gifts to a fallen world. But like all magical powers (which is what they are if you think about it), they need to be treated with respect and not abused or taken as a means to escape emptiness. 

Fundamentally all our celebrations are a search for meaning. There is more meaning in Christmas than anything else except perhaps Easter. There is none at all in a materialistic new year. You might say that it doesn't matter what our search for meaning is directed at. It is the quest for meaning that matters. But to look for meaning in something that doesn't have it will just lead to disillusion and living an artificial existence. It really is a false celebration of nothing. When will we wake up and realise this? When will we look for meaning in the only thing that has it which is God?


MultiplayerMario64 said...

God bless!

Bruce Charlton said...

Well said. The heart goes out of a celebration when it is meaningless. Another example is bonfire night (5 Nov) originally celebrating thwarting a Catholic plot to kill King James I - but nobody genuinely wants to celebrate that any more.

William Wildblood said...

I read that article and would not disagree with the main thrust of it. A point I would make though is the whole idea of a 'happy' new year is misplaced. If the goal of life were to be happy we would not have been born in this world. That does not mean we are expected to be miserable but, as the writer says, "If we think of these words of Christ and of Paul as expressing Christian virtues, then following them will lead us to happiness in the sense of flourishing or being what God created us to be." Happiness in the spiritual sense is not being happy as such but'being what God created us to be'. Which means going in the right direction. But the direction of a new year as conceived today is towards personal happiness rather than spiritual growth, and that is where it is completely wrong, never mind its random placing on an insignificant January 1st.

I have to say I like a good bonfire, Bruce, but you're right. That's just another excuse for making as much noise as possible.

Nathaniel said...

It seems like in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, New Years was a popular feast day as part of the Christmas season. I don't understand why it would have been greater than Christmas itself though .

Bruce Charlton said...

@Nathaniel - I'm not sure - but I think that the Gawain era New Year was probably the Twelfth Night/ Epiphany - 6 Jan.

Adil said...

The problem of New Year is indeed that it does not carry any meaning. What or whom are all the fireworks for? It's not like Jesus is descending or something. It's just for showing off - that we are on our way to nothing. Modern society is like a broken record on repeat.

David Balfour said...

"I'm not against wine and beer and so on. I think they are one of God's great gifts to a fallen world."

This made me smile William. Jesting aside, I feel the same way about New Year. Empty, but still, an opportunity for some quality time with family and also, at a personal level (arbitrary or not) it is a pause for reflection and a reminder that as a Christian, I can spiritualise any New Years resolutions I might chose to make and new beginnings are always possible. Of course, one could make resolutions any day, but since we live in the modern world this is the time that people chose to do it and so I am reminded of the need to press forwards to strive to be a better Christian. If something like New Years is going to happen anyway and it is unavoidable my instinct is to try and find a silver lining to a bad situation as best I can. As an aside, Christmas (undoubtedly the most important of celebrations) is magic again for me, with a young daughter, and she pointed at a picture of a nativity scene on a card and spontaneously said 'baby Jesus!' with heart warming enthusiasm. I wonder how I will explain to her my belief in God as she becomes old enough to understand. I hope she will be sympathetic to the truth of a loving God, despite that she lives in a world where 'baby Jesus' is normally deliberately and aggressively excluded from his own birthday celebrations. I pray that Christmas day will one day be restored to the magical, joyous, spiritual occasion it is meant to be. For me, no amount of booze, turkey and materialism will compensate for anything less. For most people though, the real meaning of Christmas is sadly alien and unwelcome. Having said that though, I was recently invited to attend a church service over the Christmas period and was pleased to see and meet other genuine Christians (including, as I am sure by no accident, a familiar face from my workplace, whom I had no idea until speaking to him at church on this day, that he is a committed Christian and generously shared his story of finding Christ in his life with me). There are certainly more Christians out there quietly getting on with life than the secular media would have us believe. This makes me feel hopeful and encouraged to know that I am not alone.

Best wishes to you and your family,


William Wildblood said...

Hello David

Good to hear from you. and I hope you had a happy Christmas. I think the best thing you can do for your daughter is give her a Christian foundation by getting her familiar with the Biblical stories and awakening her to the poetry of the Bible and generally appealing to her imagination. Teach her the doctrines too but if the beauty of Christianity enters her imagination then, even if she rejects it in adolescence, it will still be part of her inner life and she may come back to it later. That's what I've tried to do with my children even though it can be a bit of an uphill task sometimes what with all the contradictory influences and the public belittling of Christianity, and reduction of it to, at best, a be nice to each other sort of thing.

William Wildblood said...

Eric, "What or whom are all the fireworks for? It's not like Jesus is descending or something." That made me laugh!

Wurmbrand said...

New Year's Day? No -- celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus on the first of January. Eight days after His birth, He was circumcised and, so, began His perfect fulfillment of the Law on our behalf. Joined to Him in Baptism, we participate in that complete holiness, set-apart-for-God-ness. It's a rich feast indeed.

"The Ancient Law Departs"
by Sebastian Besnault, d.1724

1. The ancient Law departs,
And all its fears remove,
For Jesus makes with faithful hearts
A covenant of love.

2. The Light of Light Divine,
True brightness undefiled,
He bears for us the pain of sin
A holy, spotless Child.

3. His infant body now
Begins the cross to feel:
Those precious drops of blood that flow
For death the Victim seal.

4. Today the name is Thine
At which we bend the knee.
They call Thee Jesus, Child Divine;
Our Jesus deign to be.

5. All praise, eternal Son,
For Thy redeeming love,
With Father, Spirit, ever One
In glorious might above. Amen.

The Lutheran Hymnal
Hymn #117