Bringing in the New Year -- here in the part of the world where midnight on January 1 is recognized as its start -- is, for most of us who've grown up in this culture, symbolic of new beginnings. With maybe an element of honoring the old year's passing. But how to do that? Getting sloshed at awful clubs isn't that much fun, really, for many of us.
This year several people kindly asked me for New Year's ritual practice ideas, so I thought I'd quickly jot down some simple ones for you. It's a pleasure to do this. The New Year usually feels significant and pleasant to me. The rituals I have and am presenting here are not meant to be in any way comprehensive*, but instead arise from the practices I inherited from my family, and those I've either picked up from spiritual mentors or created myself from research and intuition. As in all things, checking in with one's own intuition about whether a practice feels right and good for oneself is paramount and essential.
In my view, most of these are rituals that could be appropriate across many religious and spiritual paradigms, but, again, that's an individual choice.
I would also like to note that while some of these may echo Native American practices, they are not meant to, as such, and I am in no way meaning to be culturally appropriative. The burning of herbs for cleansing and protection, and the orientation to the sacred directions and their wise, kind, well, and loving spirits, for instance, may have been a nearly universal practice in indigenous cultures, even European ones, based what we think we know from archeology, anthropology, and some extant writings. I know a bit about those, but far less about the rich heritage and traditions of cultures that I do not have a legacy or experience in. I would love to hear from anyone who'd like to share about those, and honor you kindly and welcome you.
All that said, here they are, some simple New Year's Rituals, with extremely brief explanations (and some with modifications if you don't have the energy right now for the whole shabang):
1. Before performing any ritual or ceremonial practice, always set protection. Here is my everyday way of doing that. Sage yourself off, and with that sage make offering to the six directions, starting in the East, and moving clockwise to South, West, North, then Earth and Sky, respectfully saying thank you to each and asking for protection and help. If you have protectors, ask for their help as well, and thank them. As you're doing this, visualize a barrier, like a giant bubble, 360 degrees around your person, house, and entire property. I also ask for protection for my ancestors and my descendents, and that this ritual I am preparing to do be healing for them as well as for me and my home, and all those who dwell there and enter it. Of course who you ask for this help is up to you. I sometimes even ask Jesus for help, as I find him to be a very strong and well protector (even though I don't identify as Christian). Sweep a bit of the smoke out the front door with your hand, at the end. Obviously, practice excellent fire safety. Please note that if you can't get through your entire house this way, it's fine to sit in one spot and move the container around the directions as well as possible, while imagining and asking for the protection for the whole house and land. Also, if smoke doesn't work for you, water is also a wonderful ritual cleanser, of course, and can be used in much the same way. Just say a blessing over the water before you start.
2. Ritual or mundane cleaning, or repairs. If you're not feeling up to actually cleaning your house, don't even worry about that. This time of year can really take it out of a person, causing increased symptoms of depression, and flair-ups of chronic pain and illness. If that's so for you, the above ritual cleansing is likely enough. Adding in a symbolic cleaning action, like taking a broom and "sweeping it" through the front door, is an ancient gesture.
All that said, if you have the time and energy, beginning the year with some order and cleanliness is a good idea. Gods know I am not, nor have I ever been, in any way, ever, a "good housekeeper." As a matter of fact, I've resented the expectation and judgement put on women to be that and have actively resisted since I was small child. Nonetheless, in many wisdom traditions, all over the world there is the belief that stagnation, illness, bad spirits or negative energies can collect in chaos, disorder, forgotten piles of unused and ignored possessions, and grime. I think there is definitely something to this. So, if you can straighten up and/or clean and bring that midnight Jan. 1 in with your house in that kind of state, it's a good thing. It will also help you feel like your year is starting out in a purposeful and welcoming manner. Who doesn't like to walk into a clean house? Any minor repairs that can be hammered out? Today, I finally fixed a kitchen chair that had some loose screws, and while I was at it, tightened those on the other three. #obvioussymbology Also, if there is anything you want to throw away or give away or burn or bury, before the year turns in a good time.Just do the protection before you clean, and sage off afterwards.
3. Two lists, Release and Bring In. If you wish, you may take two sheets of paper and on one, write what you want to release; on the other, write what you want to bring in for the New Year. Burn the releasing one (if you have a safe way to do this) (be sure not to get any of that particular smoke on you!), and set the other one on your altar or in a special place, where it can brew. You can do this any time, but I like to burn the release list right before midnight, and place the bring in list right after. I say thank you to all I've been taught and those who have brought me these teachings, and I send away any I don't want or need. Setting boundaries! And calling in the graces.
4. Prepare for midnight by bringing out the pots and pans or noisemakers! When the clock strikes 12, start banging away! There is a reason for this tradition! You're driving out that bad energy from your house. Doing that, walk through the whole house in a *counterclockwise* direction while banging the pans, and even yelling or singing loudly to shoo them away. This is such an old practice! I also like to have a candle lit for midnight.
5. Now seal the boundary and protection again. After going through the whole house counterclockwise, seal the house with protection again, as in #1 above. You can do this either by going through the whole house (clockwise this (time), or making that circle in one room. Be sure to visualize all the elements of protection as above. There is no such thing as too much good boundary.
6. New Year's Day! This is a feast day. You're setting tone for the New Year. The idea is to set a tone of prosperity, wellbeing, hospitality, and thanks. Does your family have any traditions that you know of and connect with? That feel grounding and comforting to you? Or how about your deep ancestors, way, way far back? If you know about any of the regions your people come from, you can research what practices, feasting, or other activities they engaged in for their New Year and do those. If there aren't any special traditions already, make some here! Select a dish that will be your New Year's Day feast dish, and have it every year. Bless it with all your heart, and thank it for nourishing you. It is an opportunity to thank all the hands that grew and picked the food, the land and the spirits of the land that brought you and your energy and sustenance all year, and that will do so in the New Year. To honor them, and to ask that they continue with you.
For me, it's simple. One simply does not dare begin the New Year without eating black eyed peas. Or goose. But I only remember having goose once or twice. I do remember hearing every single year that we were of course having black eyed peas, for without black eyed peas or goose luck would turn bad. This became so strongly embedded in me that I recall only one year in my entire life upon which New Year's Day I considered not eating black eyed peas. Why? I was iced in. Iced in alone, in a small college town. It was my children's year to be with their father for the holidays, they were far away in Georgia. I had made low-key plans with friends who lived in the country. They were making the black eyed peas. I hadn't bought any. I'd been planning to head out there in the evening. But before the day wore on too far an storm moved in and began pouring ice from the sky in waves. In torrents. In giant, liquid, crystal glaciers. It coated everything. four inches of ice coated my car like armor, the doors would not open, and the tired looked frozen to the road, which was shiny black as dragonglass and impassable. The town was still as a sleeping mouse. And so I stayed in and watched movies and enjoyed the peace and quiet, watch the ball drop in Times Square, called my kids, went to sleep.
The next day, I spent most of my time puttering around and telling myself all about how it was okay not to have any black eyed peas on New Year's Day, surely just this once, as the roads were still impassible and the ice still coming down at times: it's just a superstition, couldn't possibly make an objective difference, etc. all the rational things. Which was all fine and I almost believed, all the way until dark, until 9:00pm, 10, 11, until the moment I picked up the phone and called the nearest grocery store to find out what time they closed and they said midnight and I was on my way, walking into the icey black night, to the grocery store, to get the peas. The sidewalks were not walkable! Way too thickly and unevenly iced, and downhill the whole way. I walked in the middle of the two-lane, one-way road, the whole way. Saw not a single car. Did not fall down. Froze my ass off. Got a can of black eyed peas and wolfed them down before midnight struck on New Year's Day, thus officially not breaking the tradition and saving myself an entire year of anxiety over at least that one thing. Never regretted it for a second. Will never allow myself to be in that situation again, if I can help. Funny story, now. To me, this small family tradition matters, very much. As does singing Auld Lang Syne (yes and yes). These are my people. Not all good, not all bad. I've kept what is meaningful for me, and brought in what feels meaningful and older (that I suspect had been lost along the way, perhaps). Not all my family lines had the privilege it takes to hold onto and cherish pre-colonial, pre-troubles ways. Some did. Respect for both.
This year I'm planning on having the black eyed peas as an accompanying dish within a brunch of eggs, greens, cornbread, mimosas, coffee and tea. It's going to be lovely. I don't know precisely where the black eyed peas and/or goose come from in my ancestry. It do know which side of the family it comes from, and where they mostly migrated from, and it makes sense. The idea is to set a table that will welcome in the spirit of the New Year and all it can bring, in the very, very old belief that as on the New Day, so it is in the New Year. Edit to add: I always select choice bits of food and drink for the altar.
Blessings. May your well, vibrant, and loving ancestors, your God or gods, the spirits of the land, the land itself, and all the Beings human and other-than-human who dwell upon this Earth be well in the coming year, and beyond. May we care for all, and never forget what we have, and may we always work together to provide for all. May we never knowingly leave others hungry, cold, or hurting. May we atone for the harms we've done, to one another, to this land, and for those of us with a little or a lot of European ancestry may we atone to those who's land this rightfully is and that we live upon as if it were ours. My we cease from doing harm. May we be strong in our boundaries. May we be fierce in our compassion. May we find and feel and trust our own inner wisdom as it lives in our bodies and may we look to no authority figure for the truth or the way, for it is there within ourselves, part of nature, deeply connected to the land itself and the spirits of the land and the creatures who are our brothers and sisters that it dwells. May we forgive ourselves and love ourselves on our difficult and imperfect journeys to those places. And may we never forget how to fight for what is right in this world. Happy New Year.
* I came down with some kind of virus right after Christmas, and so, perhaps sadly, do not have the energy to do additional research right now (I'm spending it preparing these rituals, instead!), nor to write a comprehensive piece that includes many cultures. I wish I did! Therefore, this piece is based on my personal practices.
Margaret Howard, MFA, LCSW
Depth somatics psychotherapist, regenerative gardener, writer, elder, explorer.