2013: The world didn’t end; so celebrate the New Year!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 31: The world did not end 10 days ago. (Our Mayan preview story got that one right!) So, come on! Let’s celebrate this New Year 2013!

Billions will join in the global holiday with booming fireworks, resolutions and toasts to the new year; from Times Square to London to Sydney, celebrations will roll around the planet as clocks strike 12 in one time zone after another. (CNN captures the world’s best New Year bashes in a photo slideshow.) Although America’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” will be missing Dick Clark this year—the 82-year-old passed away in April—the show will go on with memoirs and tributes to its longtime host. Just don’t forget to warm up your moves for Gangnam Style, too—rumor has it that Korean hit Psy will be getting crowds up and moving in Times Square as 2012 draws to a close. (Read more at the official Times Square site.)


Ancient Romans dedicated New Year’s Day to Janus, the god of gates and beginnings—thus the modern name of January—and the holiday has long signified a religious feast for various sects. (Wikipedia has details.) The Romans piled many associations onto January 1, including a special dedication to Julius Caesar after his death. Today, as we watch network television reports from around the world, we tend to think of January 1 as the universal start of the year. However, many cultures still celebrate other kinds of New Year’s Days throughout what is now the world’s common calendar. Chinese New Year, for example, comes in February 2013. (See our story from January 2012.) Others are “later” in our common calendar: The Persian New Year of Nowruz (spellings vary) comes in the spring. (Here is our 2012 Nowruz story.) Muharram, the first month in the Muslim calendar, falls in November 2013. (Here’s an earlier Muharram story.)

Many groups have created their own New Year’s traditions! Polar Bear sightings increase dramatically tomorrow in many chilly climates—but don’t worry, it’s likely just members of a local Polar Bear Club. Icy plunges into nearly frozen bodies of water are not only fun news items—you’re sure to see an annual Polar Bear Club story on TV news shows—but these shocking dips also raise money for charities in many cases. If ice swimming isn’t a favorite sport, fans can take in American football, European football and ice hockey, all of which are broadcasted on Jan. 1.


John Wesley statue in Wilmore Kentucky. Photo by Adam Davenport, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.For many Christians, a Watchnight service provides relief from partying and focuses attention on confessions from the previous year and prayer for the year ahead. You may think that’s a recent trend, since some congregations nationwide have started adopting this practice to help reduce drunk driving. However, this is a centuries-old tradition for which millions thank Methodism’s founder John Wesley and also African-American congregations.

How is it spelled? Many ways. Around the English-speaking world, we find groups spelling it Watchnight, Watch-Night and Watch Night.

Where did it begin? Historians agree that the Wesleyan tradition of Watchnight actually comes from the now little-known Moravian Church. This early Protestant movement was very influential in Wesley’s life. As early as the 1730s, Moravians were holding Watchnight liturgies. Wesley is believed to have followed suit in the 1740s. So, all of these practices pre-dated the American Civil War by more than a century. Wesley’s landmark in defining this custom came in 1780, when he published “Directions for Renewing Our Covenant with God.” That original, lengthy text is available in collections of Wesley’s complete works—but the liturgy’s 18th-century tone would sound archaic in most churches today. The original Wesley service is a lengthy, heavy-duty evangelical appeal for “wretched sinners” to give up the Devil and come to Christ. At one point, Wesley urged sinners to envision the world around them dividing between Good and Evil. He wrote:

MAKE YOUR CHOICE: Turn either to the right-hand or to the left; lay both parts before you, with every link of each; Christ with his yoke, his cross and his crown; or the Devil with his wealth, his pleasure and curse; and then put yourselves to it thus: Soul, you see what is before you, what will you do? Which will you, either the crown or the curse?

Thanks to United Methodist publishing today, you can download a sample of a much more contemporary Watchnight liturgy in PDF format.

African-American congregations solemnly mark the anniversary of the confirmation of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. President Lincoln’s preliminary declaration of emancipation had dropped like a bombshell in September 1862, giving Confederate states until January 1 to return to the Union—then, the actual issuance of the proclamation fell on New Year’s Day. It’s said that many African-Americans gathered in churches on New Year’s Eve 150 years ago, breathlessly anticipating what would unfold the next day.


Hosting a bash for the New Year? Access printables, decorating tips and recipes from Martha Stewart; recipes are also at Taste of Home, Country Living, Food Network and AllRecipes. Kids can join in the fun with craft ideas and party ideas from Family Fun and Parents.com. Mixing drinks without the alcohol? Stir up tasty mocktails with help from HGTV and the Four Seasons.


A Jewish authority in Haifa is causing a stir for many Jewish businesses this year by warning any hotel or event hall in the city that it will lose kashrut supervision for New Year’s celebrations. (The Jerusalem Post has the story.) Secular activists called the warning “scandalous,” and an “extortion of business owners;” the statement insisted that Jewish law forbids “a Jew to be present in a place where ‘idol worship’ is being conducted,” which includes the rituals of other religions.


Select Christian churches also mark the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ on January 1, as tradition tells that Jews circumcised baby boys eight days from birth. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates this also as the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.


Interested to know how religion changed headlines through the past year? Check out an article in Religion News, which travels through the 10 ways religion changed the world in 2012.

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