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A History of New Years within Christianity

A History of New Years within Christianity new years
The LORD initiated celebration of the new year. It marked liberty, leaving slavery & moving on to a new and better place. Let's get ready!

Happy New Year! Did you know that the LORD initiated the celebration of the new year among His people?

1491 BC: The Exodus and First New Year Celebration

This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you…. And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance forever. Exodus 12:2 and 14

This was a new beginning for the children of Israel for it marked the day of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. They were leaving behind the old and stepping out into the new! They were on their way to the Promised Land!

What a wonderful metaphor for us who know Jesus, who have been born again, delivered from sin, washed in His precious blood and are on our way to heaven, leaving our old life behind and, with St. Paul:

forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

Jews continue this celebration to this very day, but they had some competition when they came under the rule of Rome.

46 BC: Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar.

This new Julian calendar began the new year with January 1. Within the Roman world, January 1 would become the consistently observed start of the new year. Sacrifices were made to Janus, gifts and visits were exchanged, along with masquerading and feasting.

The Jews did not celebrate this day and resisted most things Roman.

30 AD: New Year Celebration Fulfilled

Jesus and His disciple celebrated the Jewish New Year right up to the Last Supper. Then, the promise of the Savior was fulfilled, and the lamb of the Passover was revealed to be the Lamb of God! Christians ceased celebrating the Jewish holiday and began celebrating Easter.

Although Believers stepped away from Judaism, the earliest records we have of the early church show that they too resisted celebrating the January 1 new year holiday. The Encyclopedia Britannica explains, “Christians were expected to spend the day in quiet meditation, reading of Scripture and acts of charity”

567: Council of Tours abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year.

755: Council of Tours recommended the new year start at Easter.

Since the date of Easter changes every year, most European countries began the year on March 25, the day thought to be the day the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to bear Jesus. Over time, this day became known as the Feast of the Annunciation and later “Lady Day.”

1155: Lady Day, March 25, the date of the Annunciation, designated as the first day of the year in England.

1582: Pope Gregory’s calendar reform restored January 1 as New Year’s Day.

1642: Rembrandt’s Night Watch. This famous painting depicts Dutch military officers remaining awake and on guard all night to defend against an enemy attack. Protestants adopted the term and used it to initiate a special service to welcome the new year.

1733: The original Watch Night Service

Held on New Year’s Eve at the palace of COUNT NICHOLAS VON ZINZENDORF in nearby Hernhut, Germany

1752: England and its colonies, including North America, adopted the Gregorian calendar and January 1 became New Year’s Day in 1753.

1770: John Wesley brought Watch Night services to America (they were called “Covenant Renewal Services”) Some were held in Philadelphia Old St. George’s Methodist Church at 235 North Fourth Street. The point of these December 31 services was “watch over and meditate on” the past year and prepare

1862: Enslaved Blacks held their Watch Night services in anticipation of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation effective January 1, 1863.

1884 to Date: Watch Night Services held across denominational lines.

1936-2000: Annual Watch Night Services at EMMANUEL PENTECOSTAL CHURCH.

I remember many of these as I began attending as a boy. At first, it was a “rite of passage,” i.e. I got to stay up past midnight, but over the years, it has become much more. Outwardly, it is visibly a separation from worldly celebrations, which have returned to the days of revelry and drinking of the Roman celebrations of the Saturnalia.
Inwardly, it is a time of self-examination and repentance but also of recommitment or rededication of my life to the Lord Jesus Christ and His purpose.

21st Century

In our time, Watch Night services are held in hundreds of cities around the world. In many cases, churches planned these as a shelter from the drunken excess and dangers of wild New Year’s Eve partying. In many black churches, the emphasis has been on the cultural and social facets of history, but in others the emphasis is spiritual. That spiritual spirit starts with prayer, thanks, and praise for the blessings of the past year, repentance for our sins, and asking the Lord to rule in our hearts in the new year.

How Can We as Christians Glorify God in Celebrating the New Year?

Go to a Watch Night service and join in prayer, thanksgiving, and repentance with our brother and sisters in Christ.

Ask the Lord to have His way with us in the coming year. Remember He is coming soon!

Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch. March 13:35-27

Recommit our lives to Jesus and ask Him to take the throne of our hearts.

The object of the new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul. G.K. Chesterton

Resolve to read the Bible every day until you have read it all the way through.

Sign on to these resolutions from Jonathan Edwards:

One: I will Live for God Two: If no one else does, I still will.

Above all, remember Jesus is still on the throne, and He has wonderful things in store.

Happy New Year!

There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind. C.S. Lewis

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