New Year’s Day is a big deal everywhere I go. It is not always celebrated on the same day, as many cultures traditionally celebrate according to the lunar calendar or at the beginning of a different season. In America we grown accustomed to the ball dropping at Times Square, fireworks, a toast, and Dick Clark. This revelry is matched throughout Southeast Asia. Every ethnic group takes pride in their grandiose celebrations of their New Year’s day. The Chinese decorate everything in red and gold and spend several days visiting friends and family, giving the kids red envelopes with crisp new bills in it and eating the culinary delights that only the Chinese imagination could have created. In the Philippines the firecrackers get so big they rattle the house (and, all too often, take off an appendage) and if one has a gun they point up and shoot. The noise level is unbelievable. The celebrations of New Year’s (Tet) in Vietnam must be similar, as it was the occasion for the Tet Offensive to occur unnoticed for too long during the Vietnam war.
In the American celebration of New Year’s, the most spiritual it gets is making New Year’s resolutions. But mostly it is a big party. I was talking to friend of ours in Indonesia who comes from a tribe that is predominately Christian. For his tribe, celebration of New Year’s is far more important than Christmas. Church worship services are an absolute must. When we told him that we don’t gather with our church on New Year’s day (unless it happens to fall on a Sunday), he was appalled. He asked about it a couple more times to make sure he understood correctly. Another year has passed in which much has happened, how can we not worship the author and sustainer of our lives?
When we think about cultural events such as New Year’s Day, we have a proclivity to do a surface comparison of the celebration. To us, it is just a big celebration and little more. Thus when we view other cultures we only look as far as the big celebration activities. But these celebrations often have a much deeper and meaningful side to it that goes unnoticed. Why do so many cultures bring out the most obnoxiously loud firecrackers for this occasion? Why do the Thais splash water on each other? The underlying answers take us deep into the worldviews of each culture. Of course, we don’t expect that because there is little spiritual significance to the ball dropping in New York or Dick Clark. It illustrates just how secularized we are in America, no matter our creed.
As followers of Jesus and children of the most high God, it would behoove us to resacralize these moments. I’m not suggesting that we create a ritual for the sake of having a ritual. Neither am I suggesting that we work up another service at church so we feel better about ourselves. It does seem appropriate, however, to have a moment where we reflect on the gracious activity of the Almighty during the passed year.