I'm deliberately putting a lot on my own plate in 2024. I want to be filled. There are going to be a lot of flights to book, a lot of places to go and people to see. I'm expecting major changes (good, exciting changes!) in my romantic partnership, more responsibility at work, faster expansion in my online community, a lot of doors opening, opportunities for growth, and opportunities to learn from. I know that in order to hold all of this, I'm going to have to cut the cords on a lot of old things, too; namely, distraction, self-sabotaging behaviors, and perhaps some lingering relationships.
It feels like a lot is riding on this year. I'm mostly excited about it, but can't help but feel a little intimidated as well.
If you are feeling some of the same familiar twinges of hope and eagerness - you feel antsy and perhaps restless waiting for the starter to shout "GO!" - know that we're toeing that line together. The first few days of any new year commonly feel this way. We have been conditioned to practice New Years resolutions, and that means we start now. Maybe you spent your entire holiday season writing out a list of goals for yourself, and they are already underway. I always seem to notice a greener change in my colleagues' lunches when we come back together after winter break, as they all begin their new diets. Likewise, the gym is annoyingly full at all hours of the day this month. We have collectively built the idea over many years that a new year is the perfect time to reinvent ourselves, or to become the person we've always hoped we would be.
I'm sure you can see where this is going, and I want to be clear that I am in no way bashing the tradition of New Years resolutions. But I do want to challenge the norm. More specifically, I want us to ask: Why now, when the rest of the natural world is effectively asleep? Why now, when my our bodies are practically screaming for rest? While our western idea of the new year doesn't quite coincide with nature's definition, there are certainly many social, traditional reasons for this time to have become the time. Let's explore that together, and also get curious about the "forgotten" practices for ushering in newness.
Where did this "new year" come from?
Have you ever wondered why, as the clock strikes midnight, we welcome in a new year specifically on January 1st? The significance of this date, steeped in history and tradition, goes well beyond what most people today have considered.
The roots of our January 1st celebration trace back to ancient Rome. In Roman mythology, Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions, was depicted with two faces—one looking back at the past and the other forward to the future, much like we would reflect on each passing year today. The Romans believed that by honoring Janus, they could receive his blessings for a prosperous new year. Combining this idea with the introduction of the Julian calendar by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE played a pivotal role in shaping our modern calendar system. This calendar, a refinement of earlier Roman calendars, aligned more closely with the solar year than any known time-mapping system had before. January 1st was designated as the first day of the year, connecting with the new consular year, the celebration of Janus, and the beginning of various civic and social activities.
During the medieval period hundreds of years later, the celebration of the new year varied across cultures and regions. Some observed it on dates tied to religious festivals, while others adhered to historical or agricultural events. The lack of a standardized calendar led to a diversity of practices, making the new year a somewhat fluid concept. Then came along the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, and it marked a crucial shift in the way the collective began to perceive the new year. Though many populations still held to their ideas, the Gregorian calendar sought to correct discrepancies and differences between those many varying cultures, still hoping to align more even closely with the solar year than before. (This would likely have made "January 1st" a little bit closer to the winter solstice, "December 21st," several hundred years ago. I put these dates in quotations as they may have been a bit off from the days we now recognize them as. Confusing!) With this reform, January 1st became widely accepted as the start of the new year across Catholic countries and gradually gained global recognition.
As international communication and trade expanded, so did the influence of the Gregorian calendar. The standardization of January 1st as the beginning of the new year gained traction, making it a shared marker of time across cultures and continents.
To condense it all very simply, the celebration of New Year's Day on January 1st is a testament to the blend of ancient mythologies, historical reforms, and global synchronization experienced hundreds and even thousands of years ago. But it leaves many of us wondering...what were some of those other, perhaps now "forgotten" traditions? What were their practices for calling in a new beginning?
While most of us recognize January 1st as the first day of the new year - essentially passed down to us from the spiritual beliefs of a Roman deity's powers - astrologers recognize March 21st as the astrological new year. This momentous day roughly aligns with the vernal equinox, symbolizing the balance of day and night, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. As the sun enters Aries, the first sign of the zodiac, it signifies a burst of energy and the beginning of a new astrological cycle. It's a time for renewal, self-discovery, and embracing the opportunities that lie ahead. Some would say that this is the truest, most potent time to bring your "new years resolutions" into action.
Then there's Ostara, often celebrated around the same time as the astrological new year. This is a pagan festival that welcomes the arrival of spring. Named after the Germanic goddess Eostre, this celebration embraces themes of fertility, growth, and rebirth. Many traditions involve the symbolic representation of eggs and hares, echoing the renewal of life and the lengthening days. Though modern Christians would call this Easter, it's a holiday now mostly kept to celebrate spring, but more importantly, Jesus's resurrection into Heaven. Where Christmas resides closely to the winter solstice and celebrates Jesus's birth, it's quite interesting to note the contradictions between our typical ideas of winter signifying death, while spring signifies life. More on this in a moment.
Let's take it back to where we are now: early January. For those attuned to lunar cycles, the first new moon of the year holds special significance. The new moon in Capricorn represents a cosmic reset - a blank canvas from which intentions and goals can be planted and nurtured. Many cultures and spiritual practices recognize the new moon as an opportune time for introspection, setting intentions, and embarking on new ventures. So if you're big on your new years resolutions, and you're absolutely rearing to go, good news: this new moon lands on Thursday, January 11th! If you have a few minutes to set aside during the day, it'd be a wonderful opportunity to put your intentions out into the universe, speak them, and make plans to act on them. But even still, it may not be the best time to actually start the race.
These alternative New Year celebrations highlight the diversity of our historical human traditions and our connection to celestial rhythms. While the Gregorian calendar is widely adopted for practical and organizational purposes, exploring other markers allows us to tap into the richness of cultural and spiritual practices that honor the cycles of nature.
Living in harmony with the seasons
As we navigate through these various New Year celebrations, let's take a moment to reflect on the different lenses through which people perceive the concept of new beginnings. I believe one important factor is missing through the most popular definition of the new year, and that's that it ignores our innate desire to rest and retreat during the darkest days of winter, which it falls into for us northern hemisphere folks. If you, like me, are conflicted by the expectations of getting your shit together as fast as possible for the incoming year, going straight back to work with everything figured out, and completely reinventing yourself to fit into the mold of the "best version of you," while simultaneously burnt out from the holidays, feeling sluggish, and wanting nothing more than to lay in a cocoon of blankets while sipping on tea and snuggling the dog for warmth, know that you are currently in the right place to confront this. It is not wrong to be conflicted. In fact, it shows that you are listening to your deepest wisdom.
Get familiar with it. You've likely spent your entire life with external messaging pressuring you to get lined up on the racetrack, ready to go as soon as the cannon fires at midnight on January 1st. But let's take to the sidelines for the start of this year, if it feels right. Now is not the time to run headlong into the unknown.
Now is the time to rest, recharge, and plan for that race.
This is ultimately what I would like to challenge about our current idea of resolutions. We get so pressured to start them immediately, when I believe the rhythms of our bodies and the natural world are urging us to instead use this quiet, dark time to get cozy, sip on that tea, and lay out a framework for how we'll achieve it all. We know - nature knows that brighter, longer, more lively days are ahead. That's the time to actually start moving. Until then, we prepare. Until then, we do a lot of reflection, inner work, and planning.
As mentioned earlier, it's always been kind of funny and contradictory to me that the birth of Jesus is celebrated in late December. Normally we think of this time as the symbolic death. But it actually makes a lot of sense. The winter solstice is the darkest day of our solar year in the northern hemisphere - though winter is just beginning, it actually signifies that from here on out, our days will slowly grow longer and brighter. The ground is not yet fertile, and she needs many more months still to rest and rejuvenate, just as we do. But in that time, we can plan how we intend to plant the seeds. We can look ahead to what we envision our lives will look like come summer, come harvest - and what would be the best course of action to successfully get us there.
That's why, right now, I'm not actually booking any flights for the spring. I'm not handing out an immediate "yes" to any and all plans. I'm not getting my hopes up about anything. Most importantly, I'm not rushing into anything. I know that I still need several weeks, maybe even months, to determine strategies and next steps, because I feel that sensation of pulling back deep within. I've been trying for years now to get better at listening to my body's inner cues, and this one is the largest of them all right now. I would love to dive right into the "one year anniversary" social media posts for my podcast, and I would love to launch my full rebrand, share how things are evolving, and reach as far and wide as I can until I find my true target audience and community. But I know, because I feel, that it's not all meant to happen in the first weeks of January. Great things take time. The best things take time, devotion, intention, awareness, and planning.
So, if you feel that too, I hope you are able to meet any conflicting evidence of the dated resolution tradition and nip it for the sake of your most successful future. Embrace, instead, the most ancient tradition of winter: rest. Allow yourself to be still without the feeling of stagnation. Allow your environment to take in silence until it sounds sweeter and more peaceful than any music or background noise could ever dream to. This is your moment to make light from the void. Use it wisely.
Know I'm right here with you.