Does New Year’s Day deserve our love, or even our respect?
Some holidays elevate an important event—like the 4th of July or Christmas Day. Others honor transformative social movements—like Labor Day or Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Heck, I can even explain Groundhog day!
But New Year’s Day? It struggles along like a Dickensian orphan begging for at least a pretense of a justification, surviving perhaps only because no one wants to give up a day off work (me included).
When I was a kid, this apparent lack of raison d’etre puzzled me. But it was a day off school—it needed no further justification.
But when I began having kids of my own, a weight descended upon my shoulders. It was my job to explain the rationality of the world system to them—even more so because my wife and I were homeschooling them. And I was confounded by this problem of a pointless New Year’s Day. What I had heretofore avoided was no longer avoidable.
So I looked for an answer.
A few stray Bible verses began coming to mind. “In the third year of the reign of Johiakim” (Daniel 1:1); “In the third year of King Belshazaar’s reign” (Daniel 8:1); “in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius” (Ezra 6:15). It occurred to me that back in the “old days,” folks kept track of years based on the identity of each successive king, how long he had reigned, and which year of that particular king is under discussion. And this started a train of thought that opened my eyes to this simple concept: each of our year numbers, having begun with Jesus, is a year “of the reign of Christ on earth.”
To say “this year is 2017” sounds unappealing and random. But to say “this is the 2,017th year of the reign of Christ on earth” is both broadly accurate and carries a tremendous punch. There is absolutely nothing random about calling this year “2017.” The explanation I could give my kids had arrived! We celebrate New Year’s Day because it is a new year of the reign of Christ. And that’s worth staying up late, making noise, and having a party (and of course, taking a day off work).
But wait, there’s more!
Listening to Susan Boyle’s very slow rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” last year gave me time to think. “Oh, she’s actually asking a question—SHOULD old acquaintance be forgot?” The verse commonly sung does not offer an answer. I had always thought it was a mere rhetorical question—intended to provoke thought rather than produce an answer. But Ms. Boyle’s mellow, contemplative voice made me look for an answer—which I found in the final verses of Burns’ poem.
Here is my condensed, paraphrased version:
- Verse 3: We two playfully wandered over many hills and picked many daisies together long ago, but we have each travelled far on our own since then.
- Verse 4: We two spent many days happily paddling boats in the creek together long ago, but the ocean’s wind and waves have separated us since then.
- Verse 5: Take my hand, my trusted friend, and let’s drink this mug in honor of our precious, happy friendship memories.
Auld Lang Syne is about two old, dear friends who, though they have been separated, can still enjoy the happy memories of their youthful fellowship. It’s not about the transition from one year to another. It’s about friendship. It’s about relationship.
To have a king inevitably implies a relationship between the subject and the king. Is there even the faintest possibility that the king who was born roughly 2017 years ago seeks a relationship with us not unlike the relationship between the two dear friends in Auld Lang Syne? If any king who ever lived yearned for that kind of a relationship, it is the King of Kings. If any king has ever taught us what relationship really means, it is He.
A part of me regrets the chain of historical fortuities that separated on our calendar the birth of the king (Christmas) from the day (New Year’s Day) numbering the length of his reign. They truly celebrate the same event and rightfully should be one and the same day. But my aspirational fidelity to history will not tempt me to suggest merging the two. The workers of the world would unite against me for offering the Scrooges of the world an excuse to pinch a holiday!
So instead I will simply put my hand in the hand of my King, my trusted friend. With a warm and grateful heart, I will rejoice in another year of His reign. And with other trusted friends, I will lift in his honor the same cup he lifted the last night of his mortal life on earth. For old time’s sake.
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