As a member of a U.C.C. church that came from a Congregational background, I have always been interested in the contributions of our forebears, the Pilgrims and Puritans. Recently, I came across an article on the Christian traditions of New Year’s resolutions in a 2004 issue of Christianity Today. While the article focuses on a much older tradition, my attention was drawn to the Puritan aspects of the new year.
Author Chris Armstrong explains that new year celebrations existed before the advent of the church. Romans celebrated the new year on March 1st until they adopted Christianity, at which time they focused on fasting and meditation. However, the tradition didn’t stick. Various versions of a new year celebration emerged and died out in western civilization until the British Empire adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 and the new year moved
back to January 1st.
This is where the Puritan contribution begins. Armstrong wrote,
Some Christians, however, still hesitated to celebrate the day. The Puritans, for example, were leery of the associations of January 1 with the pagan god Janus—they preferred not even to say the name of the month, referring to it rather as "First Month." And of course they stood against the dissipations usually indulged during the celebration. Instead, the Puritans urged their young people, especially, to skip the revelry and meditate on the year past and the year to come. Always ready to introspect—in famously excruciating detail—they adopted again the old custom of making resolutions. They vowed to take more care against their besetting sins, make better use of their talents and other divine gifts, and treat others with Christian charity.
This is the tradition we celebrate today. While many of us have also adopted the festive celebration of New Year’s Eve, just as many, if not more, have made a practice of making resolutions. Colonial American Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards created a famous list of 70 resolutions in the two years following his graduation from Yale and during his first pastorate in Northampton. MA. I find the practices of the Puritans to be too intense and a little scary in modern life, but Edwards’ list is inspiring and has contemporary application. While you can read the full list at http://bit.ly/1cry6PW, below are a few you may wish to consider as you make your own resolutions for the new year.
5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time;
but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.
14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.
33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining and establishing peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects.
41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better.
52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.
54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in commendation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, resolved to endeavor to imitate it.
67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.
70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.