We rarely think of New Year’s as a quiet holiday. It’s usually full of whirling noisemakers, booming fireworks, and parties filled with music and laughter. In the midst of the merriment, we can also find ways to bring spiritual meaning to the end of one year and the start of the next.
A few years ago, when my elder son was newly able to write his name and a few other scribblings of words, my family started a tradition called “Our Happy Jar.” I cleaned out a large Mason jar and filled it with colorful scraps of paper. Throughout the year, our family writes down the good things that happen:
- guests that came to visit
- trips taken
- goals we accomplished
- beauty we found in creation
- funny moments
- daily blessings
I leave the jar in the kitchen where everyone can see it and try to remember to bring it out after a visit or trip. We document my sons’ first violin recital, or the time their adult cousins came to visit and started a full-blown water fight with our children, or seeing a bald eagle on the walk home from school. It’s been particularly lovely to see how much my children want to participate. If they see a rainbow or get an A on the math test, they can’t wait to return home and capture the moment in the jar. They often remember and notice things overlooked by us adults, like a silly waiter while eating out on vacation or the way they kept stepping on everyone’s feet because they were so excited on a trip to the amusement park.
On New Year’s Eve, while the grownups sip champagne and the kids enjoy their sparkling cider, we take turns reading these memories aloud. Many we had forgotten—the night my husband’s college roommate came for dinner or when I was published in that fancy-to-me magazine. We laugh, sometimes with tears in our eyes, as we remember the beautiful blessings from the year. Occasionally, we find a scrap of paper without our writing, a note from a guest from months past, recounting our visit in love, and we know that this happiness goes beyond our little family.
I think about how much this practice is a modified version of the Examen from St. Ignatius, the prayerful daily reflection to notice God’s presence in our life each day. Through these colorful scraps, we are aware of God’s loving guidance in our life in the past year. We are filled with gratitude for all the blessings, large and small, we’ve encountered. This practice refocuses us, and we start the new year with an empty jar, ready to fill with hope and wonder.
This refocus or fresh start can be applied to so many other areas in life.
In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul writes, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (4:26) A friend of mine takes these words to heart. At the end of the year, she spends time in prayer, asking God to reveal where she has harbored anger throughout the year. When God does, she asks him to take it from her, to start the new year renewed.
In the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord instructs the Israelites to forgive a debt every seven years. Can you imagine the gift you could give someone if you forgive his or her debt? Or perhaps there is another kind of “debt” that one owes you? Start the new year by forgiving these debts.
Another friend marks the end of the year by participating in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. He says the sacrament cleanses his soul for the new year. By experiencing God’s grace, he feels prepared to battle against evil and choose good in the year to come.
The new year is an opportunity for a fresh start, and as Catholics, we know it’s another year to experience God’s forgiveness, goodness, and hope.