By Jack Kinsella
The celebration of the New Year is one of mankind’s oldest customs, dating back some four thousand years to ancient Babylon. The ancient Babylonians celebrated a new year with the first New Moon of the Vernal Equinox (the first day of spring).
It was a logical time to start a new year; the first day of spring is a time of renewal. It was when new crops were planted, flowers and trees began to blossom and the year actually DID begin anew in a real and tangible way.
The Romans continued the tradition of celebrating the new year in March until about 150 BC. By then, the various Roman emperors had so messed up the calendar that it was out of synch with the sun. The Roman Senate selected January 1 as the first day of the new year. A hundred years later, Julius Caesar established the Julian Calendar. By 46 BC, successive emperors had thrown the calendar off by so much that to make it work, the year before the calendar went into effect was 445 days long.
Until about four hundred years ago, New Year’s Day was (accurately) dismissed as a pagan holiday and accordingly, it was not celebrated by the Church.
One of the oldest New Year’s traditions is practice of making noise at the stroke of midnight. Noisemakers, horns and so forth are rooted in the pagan practice of driving away evil spirits who it was believed flocked to be among the living at the start of the new year.
Another, that of unbridled drinking the night before, was a holdover from the Babylonian custom of personally re-enacting the chaos that existed before the gods brought order to the world.
Considering the absolutely pagan nature of celebrating the New Year, should Christians participate? This is one of those issues of individual soul liberty.
Paul addresses this issue, writing;
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5)
According to Paul, the origins and customs of a particular holiday are irrelevant, what matters is motive.
“He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.” (Romans 14:15)
Take, for example, the New Year’s custom of making resolutions. The custom also traces its origins in ancient Babylon. Babylonian farmers would take the occasion to inventory and return borrowed farm equipment.
But if one takes that same pagan custom and uses it to make resolutions of self-improvement before the Lord, is it still pagan? As Paul noted; “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”
I am fully persuaded that there is nothing of human origin in this world not contaminated in some way by paganism. Most of our ‘Christmas’ customs predate Christ by centuries.
Resurrection Sunday, the ONE event directly ordained by the Lord (“Do this in remembrance of Me”) has been corrupted into some kind of perverted “Ides of March” festival involving rabbits, eggs and other pagan fertility symbols.
Retailers prepare for Easter by stocking up with chocolate Easter bunnies, decorated eggs and candy chicks. The customs associated with Easter are almost wholly pagan, right down to the Christian custom of sunrise service. (That harkens back to the pagan practice of sun-worship.)
But that doesn’t stop Christians from celebrating the Resurrection of the Lord on the same day that the world celebrates the pagan renewal rites of spring.
I don’t generally participate in most traditional American New Year’s customs. I am usually in bed well before midnight. But I am faithful to the custom of making New Year’s resolutions. The practice of making New Year’s resolutions is one of self-examination, confession and repentance, even among the most secular of people.
I like to think of each New Year as a reminder to God’s People that we are not perfect — only forgiven. There is still plenty of room for improvement.
To that end, New Year’s Day is the day I take inventory of my service record from the year before, and re-dedicate myself to His service for the coming year.
This year, I resolve to put away those sins “which doth so easily beset us” and to “run with patience the race that is set before me”. (Hebrews 12:1)
I resolve to be a better man, a better Christian, a better friend and a better soldier in the Lord’s service. The fact that I make the same resolution every year is all the evidence I need to prove to myself that there is still lots and lots of room for improvement.
May God grant each of us a blessed, prosperous and happy new year. May He make each of us useful servants and fierce warriors in His cause. May He grant us victory over the enemies of the Gospel and grant us victory over our own shortcomings.
In 2019, we resolve to live each day as if the trumpet will sound before morning.
Because in 2019, it just might.
“Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)
Happy New Year, brothers and sisters! May 2019 be THE year.
This Letter was written by Jack Kinsella on December 31, 2005 *Updated dates.