Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tradition

I was never one for New Year's resolutions thinking that a resolution is simply the outcome of a personal continuous improvement process. I managed large departments and projects ensuring that continuous improvement processes identified defects, measured the effectiveness of the improvement and ensured the resulting processes were implemented as culture. But to measure success, you must first document the thing to be improved upon and so began 2013's Bucket List.
The Circumcision (Luca Signorelli)

I figured I'd start simply: handwritten letters versus email, go someplace new with Walt, paint something. I've refined 2014's Bucket List to be a more specific: handwritten birthday cards to my relatives, go someplace new with Walt outside the 50-mile ring encompassing NW Arkansas and paint the house.

New Year's celebrations began with the Babylonians in March. The Romans later changed the beginning of the new year to January, named for Janus, the two-faced god who looks both back to the previous year and forward to the new year. The custom of setting a new year's resolution began with the Romans vowing to be good to others. When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as the official religion, moral intentions were replaced by prayers and fasting.

The Catholic (and Lutheran) church replaced the early Roman new year's festivities with the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ: a naming ceremony in accordance with Jewish tradition where the child is formally given his name and then circumcised by the priest.

In contrast, the Puritans spent their time reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the year ahead. In this way, they adopted the old custom of making resolutions.

Jonathan Edwards, the great American theologian, took resolution writing to the next level penning 70 resolutions over a two-year period which he committed to reviewing each week. You can find them here (click).

My mother alternated between Catholic mass and Lutheran mass taking us to the latter for sacrament. I loved the ceremony and bells and chanting and incense and especially the stained glass and art adorning the walls and ceilings, and tried hard to keep up in my prayer book. But I don't remember any reference to circumcising a baby at New Year's mass. My guess is that when the church found parishioners partying with Janus and the Romans rather than attending mass, they revised their new year's service to focus on their commitment to treat their neighbors with charity and avoid habitual sins.

Three cheers for continuous improvement.

Thanks to Bill Petro (www.billpetro.com) for his article "History of New Year's Resolutions: Where did they begin."

2 comments: