By Lisa Regula Meyer
With Epiphany -which marks the official end of the holiday season- behind us, we find the new year well on its way. I’ve always enjoyed New Year’s, maybe more so than Christmas. Christmas is steeped in tradition, but New Year’s has a wonderful blend of tradition and- well- newness. The new date, the new beginnings, the new resolutions, all as fresh as the driven snow, just waiting for what the year might bring.
I realize this all sounds extremely cheesy, but in the dark of winter and after the decadence of the holidays (or letdown, depending on your feelings), that promise means something to most people. We use the baby to symbolize the new year because each new year is a baby in the beginning. We don’t know what either will bring in the beginning, and that’s not only exciting, but hopeful. Will the baby be an artist, a doctor, a genius, or a gentle soul? Will the year bring an addition to the family, a new home, a new job, or a new relationship? There’s nothing but anticipation this early in the game, and we humans love anticipation.
Unfortunately, as much as we might want the change that is potentially found in each new year, the old year is what formed us, and takes strength to overcome. All change and growth takes effort, and often pain. That baby didn’t arrive out of no where, but out of multiple hours of labor, and twisting and turning through a narrow passage. Those holiday pounds don’t melt off on their own, but only after hours at the gym. The new job isn’t magically ours, but won through diligence, work, and struggle.
Some pre-Christian traditions are thought to have celebrated the beginning of the year in different ways than we’re accustomed. For these groups, the holiday celebration began with the winter solstice, or the shortest day of the year. After this point, the days get longer, and on Imbolc, February 2nd, the new year fully begins. Solstice represents the birth of the new year, represented as a baby; Imbolc is the day when the baby (and the mother goddess) finally meet the rest of the world. In between those days is their lying in, when the mother-child dyad rest after the exertions that brought the new life to fruition, enjoy each other, and learn their new roles.
We have to remember that it isn’t just the newness and potential that makes beginnings great, it’s all the work that we had to go through to get to that point. That work deserves celebration, and a bit of recuperation and reflection, as well, and that’s what made the “lying in” period important. This period of rest wasn’t just helpful for the mind to reflect upon what we have done and what we want to do, but also physically for our ancestors, as the cold dark winter was dangerous and energetically expensive, so staying inside was less risky, even if colds did get passed around a bit more in cooped up conditions.
Obviously, in the 21st century we don’t have the same risks facing us by going outside in the driving winter winds, and most of us don’t have the luxury of taking a month off to be with friends, family, and our self. At the same time, the emotional benefits of taking a bit of time to gather our thoughts, celebrate what the previous year brought, and plan for the coming year remain. So what are celebrating and planning? Do you have plans on this year’s horizon, or are you simply open to anything? Whatever the answers, may your year be even better than you wish!