For those of us in the “good ole USA,” the movement of the clock hand from 11:59 p.m. on Sunday to midnight on Monday changed, not only the date of the day, but the month and year as well. With the tick of the minute hand, the calendar made the transition from 2017 to 2018. Did it have any spiritual significance for the masses who were so committed to their celebration or was it just an excuse to party? Okay, probably the latter.
We partied as well. Though with the temperature outside well below zero and us not really enjoying crowds, we partied in our jammies, parked in our armchairs under comfy throws, drinking diet Pepsi, and watching the countdown on TV. Then — off to bed. Goodness! It was all very exciting!
As Beliefnet points out in “The Meaning of New Year’s Traditions,” the traditions and meanings are nearly as varied as the cultures around the world:
While each culture’s New Year celebration has its own flavor, there are certain common themes. The period leading up to New Year’s Day is a time for setting things straight: a thorough housecleaning, paying off debts, returning borrowed objects, reflecting on one’s shortcomings, mending quarrels, giving alms. In many cultures, people jump into the sea or a local body of water -literally washing the slate clean.
In some towns in Italy, I’ve been told, you have to watch out for falling objects, as people shove their old sofas, chairs and even refrigerators out of their windows on New Year’s Eve. In Ecuador, people make dummies, stuffed with straw, to represent the events of the past year. These “ano viejo” effigies are burned at midnight, thus symbolically getting rid of the past.
For the nation of Israel, both past and present, the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) is a day of spiritual significance:
Rosh Hashanah’s mix of meanings, celebrating God’s coronation and worldwide Judgment Day, jumble together for a sweet/serious holiday whose customs mix the joy of God’s ‘Ruler-ship’ and the seriousness of passing muster and being inscribed for a good year.1Rosh Hashanah Customs & Traditions (http://mazornet.com/holidays/RoshHashanah/customs.htm)
The Rosh Hashanah celebration is reflected even in clothing choices:
Customary attitudes toward Rosh Hashanah clothing exemplify how the contrasting themes play out. On the one hand, special festive clothing is worn because Rosh Hashanah is a holy day, Day of God’s coronation. Jewish legal writers went so far as to require men to buy new holiday clothing or jewelry for their wives. (Now women have their own credit cards and salaries to match. No need to wait for husbands to loosen the purse strings, thank you.)
Yet some will avoid red clothes, a color linked to severity and blood, in favor of white attire, a hue of purity and the shade of a mother’s milk, sign of love and mercy. White can also symbolize confidence that a favorable judgement will be meted out. The power of positive thinking only extends so far, and some Sephardic Jews will not wear brand new clothing on Rosh Hashanah lest they appear overly certain of their righteousness before the Judge. 2Rosh Hashanah Customs & Traditions (http://mazornet.com/holidays/RoshHashanah/customs.htm)
Ask Moses writes:
Rosh Hashanah is popularly known as the Jewish New Year. It is true, the new year does begin on that day, but the translation is a bit misleading.
For one, literally, it doesn’t mean “new year” but rather “head of the year,” which we’ll explain a little later. And secondly, Rosh Hashanah is not something of parochial significance just to Jews so that it should be classified as exclusively “Jewish.” Actually, the day is relevant to every human being, and indeed, every created being in the entire universe, for Rosh Hashanah is the day that commemorates G-d’s creation of the world.
So if you’re looking for conceptual translation of the name, Rosh Hashanah should really be called the Anniversary of Creation. Indeed, the new calendar year that Rosh Hashanah ushers in is the number of years from the creation, the number value of the current Jewish year being the age of the universe.3See http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/238,162/How-does-Judaisms-claim-that-the-world-is-about-5-700-years-old-coincide-with-science.html
This perspective on the New Year brings with it a new focus. It isn’t all about us: It is a reminder for us to remember God. It isn’t simply a time to party hearty, rather it is a time both to recognize and celebrate what God has done and to look forward with anticipation to what He will do. Did we have difficulties in the past year? Sure, nearly everyone does. We experienced difficult financial situations, illness, broken relationships, loss of loved ones, and we watched loved family members suffer through no fault of their own. All of these are reminders of the falleness of human beings and indeed all of creation. As we think about our Creator, we can be encouraged because He is not only the One Who called all things into existence, but, as our Savior, at His birth He incarnated as one of us, identifying with us in a new and profound way:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Jesus can identify with us, mend broken lives, and meet us at the throne of grace “in time of need.” With His incarnation, death, burial and resurrection, He has provided salvation and peace with God by faith. And so, may you be blessed as you walk with Him in this New Year!
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