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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
166 pages
Jul 2004
Christian Publications

Beyond Groundhogs and Gobblers: Putting Meaning Back Into Your Holiday Celebrations

by Cyndy Salzmann

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt



Hebrew: Tebeth (see Esther 2:16)

New Year’s Day

Martin Luther King Jr.,Day
Third Monday in January

I will celebrate before the LORD. (2 Samuel 6:21)

New Year’s Day
January 1

Key Verse
Teach us to number our days aright,
        that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

A Little History

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

    In most of the world today, New Year’s Day is celebrated on the first day of the first month of the year. One would think this would be the easiest of all holidays to remember, but through the ages, there has been much controversy about when the new year should actually begin.

        In 46 BC, Roman emperor Julius Caesar proclaimed January 1 as New Year’s Day. As the Roman Empire grew, its customs spread.1 In fact, the month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, who is depicted with two faces, one looking back and the other looking forward.2

        In an effort to shun the many pagan practices that had grown up around the celebration of the new year in January, church leaders in the Middle Ages changed the date. For many years, the first day of the year was considered to be March 25, which commemorates the day an angel announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus (see Luke 1:26-38). It wasn’t until about 1600, when the revised Gregorian calendar gained widespread acceptance, that western nations once again began to celebrate the start of the new year on January 1.3

        Today, most of the world, including the United States, celebrates New Year’s Day on January 1. But there are some exceptions. The new year for Jewish people begins on Rosh Ha-Shanah, which is observed sometime in early fall (the actual day depends on the phases of the moon). Muslims use a calendar with 354 days (instead of 365), so the beginning of their new year fluctuates. For Hindus in India, the new year varies by region.4

        The custom of making noise at the start of the new year was originally intended to drive away evil spirits. As Christianity spread, people instead would “make a joyful noise unto God” (Psalm 66:1, KJV) by cheering, banging pans, shooting muskets in the air and ringing church bells.5 The custom of using the New Year’s baby as a sign of fertility was also “reworked.” Church leaders began to use the symbol of the baby to teach how we are “born again” through Jesus Christ.6

        Making resolutions for the New Year is a popular tradition that is still practiced today. The custom dates back to the ancient Babylonians. Their most popular resolution was to return the farm implements they had borrowed from their neighbors.7

        Many people, in the past and today, eat traditional foods as part of their New Year’s celebrations. The French eat pancakes, the Swedes serve lutfisk in a cream sauce, the Dutch eat sauerkraut and southerners in the United States eat black-eyed peas.8

        Another popular New Year’s tradition is the singing of the Scottish melody “Auld Lang Syne” at the stroke of midnight. The song was first written down by Robert Burns in the 1700s. The song’s title means “times gone by.”9

        While many people “ring in the New Year” with boisterous social events, some still carry on the tradition of a peaceful Watchnight Service. The custom was begun in the late eighteenth century by a Methodist congregation in Philadelphia. Members came together on New Year’s Eve to praise God and pray for the coming year. At midnight, the church bells would ring and members would return home quietly.10

        Many Christians still celebrate New Year’s by attending a church service. Often, Holy Communion is served to emphasize that our past sins are forgiven. Through Jesus Christ we are given a brand new start for a brand new year!

A Closer Look

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time. (Ephesians 5:15-16, NASB)

        It’s always interesting to see how crowded the health clubs and gyms are in January and then to watch how usage trickles back to normal by the end of the month. Although New Year’s resolutions to either stop a bad habit or begin a good one are a popular tradition, most seem to be forgotten by February.

        This year, instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I have a challenge for you. Take the opportunity to look back, and ahead, to make sure you are using your time wisely. God calls us to “make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5), so it’s clear that He cares about how we spend our time. We can show our love and devotion to Him by being good managers in this area.

        Here’s how to get started:

    1.      Develop a mission statement. Just as it is useless to run a race without knowing how to get to the finish line, it’s foolish to aimlessly run through our lives. So, the first step in learning how to use our time wisely must be to prayerfully come before God to develop a mission statement.

    2.      Set goals. From your mission statement, develop a list of goals for the coming year. For example, you might want to gain more knowledge of the Bible, take better care of your health or reach out to the needy in the community. The key is to allow God to guide you in this process.

    3.      Work out a game plan. Now, from your goals, develop specific objectives. For example, to increase your knowledge of the Bible you might decide to read one chapter of the Bible a day, join a study group or memorize one verse a week. The key is to make your objectives specific, practical and measurable. In fact, I think it’s best to make objectives for just one month at a time.

    4.      Evaluate your schedule. Use your goals and objectives to evaluate your schedule. What should you eliminate? Is there anything you need to add?

    5.      Write it down. Commit your plan to paper and put it in a prominent place (on the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror or the door to the garage—wherever you think you’re most likely to see it). Every month or so, evaluate your plan.

    6.      Pray and obey. Just as you began the process prayerfully, conclude it the same way. Ask God to give you the wisdom, strength and determination to live a life worthy of the calling He has so graciously given you.

If their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. (Acts 5:38)

Table Talk

    •       What are your favorite New Year’s traditions or memories?

    •       Have you ever made any New Year’s resolutions? Did you keep them?

    •       Do you have any resolutions for this year? What do you plan to do to keep them?

    •       How have you seen God at work in your life in the past year? What are some of the blessings you’ve received? How about lessons learned?

    •       How can you be a blessing to others in the coming year?


Preschool and Above

    •       Tape several feet of “bubble wrap” to the floor or outside on the ground and allow children to jump on it. This is a fun yet safe alternative to fireworks.

    •       Use fabric paint to decorate a quilt square with a special memory from the previous year. Be sure to sign and date it. Quilt squares collected through the years could be sewn together to make a thoughtful gift when a child goes off to college or moves into a first home.

    •       Enjoy a cup of wassail (warm, spiced apple juice) and toast to each other’s good health. (You can find the recipe for wassail on page 11.)

    •       Draw a picture with the four seasons. Then take it to a copy shop to be made into a calendar for the coming year. For a special touch add family birthdays and other special days to the calendar.

Elementary Age and Above

    •       Assemble a time capsule to be opened up in the future. Fill a strong, airtight container (e.g., coffee can, plastic tub or five-gallon bucket with a lid) with a variety of articles. You could include magazines, newspapers, playbills or ticket stubs, articles of trendy clothing, audio or videotapes of your family, photos, stamps, letters, postcards, etc. Place the items in zippered plastic bags, pack your container and then bury it or hide it away. Remember to include the date and names of those who put together the time capsule.

    •       Learn to say “Happy New Year!” in another language:

      •         Chinese: “Chu Shen Tan”
      •         French: “Bonne Annee”
      •         German: “Prosit Neujahr”
      •         Italian: “Felice Anno Nuovo”
      •         Spanish: “Feliz Año Nuevo”
      •         Sudanese: “Warsa Enggal”11

    •       Observe the Belgian tradition where children write and decorate notes to their parents and then read them out loud on New Year’s Day. (Add a favorite Bible verse and/or blessing to make it even more special.)

Teens and Above

    •       Continue the New Year’s tradition of Mother Lavender, a former slave who prepared dinners for the needy each New Year’s Day to spread the love of Christ.12 Continue her good works by serving dinner at a local homeless shelter or by collecting non-perishable items to stock your community food pantry. You could even enlist the help of a Sunday school or youth group.

    •       Prepare a dinner with a favorite family recipe as well as one you’ve never tried.

    •       Plan a “Watchnight Party.” Share snacks and memories with family and friends as you wait for the new year to arrive. At midnight, spend some time praising God and asking for His guidance in the coming year.

Recipes to Enjoy


        Enjoy a cup of this spiced cider and toast to each other’s good health!


2 quarts apple juice or cider

1 quart cranberry juice

1 t. whole spices (cloves, allspice)

2 cinnamon sticks


        Tie the spices in a cheese cloth or put into a large tea ball. Add all ingredients to a large pot. Heat to boiling. Turn down heat and allow to steep on low for 30 minutes. Remove spices. Serve warm.


Hoppin’ John

        The first time my friend Linda presented me with a bag of black-eyed peas at our holiday party, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Noticing the puzzled look on my face, she explained to this clueless northerner that Hoppin’ John is a traditional New Year’s food in the South.


1 cup uncooked rice

1/2 pound pork sausage

1/2 cup chopped onion

2 16-ounce cans black-eyed peas, drained

1 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste


        Cook rice according to package directions. Brown sausage and onion. Drain fat. Add peas, water and seasoning. Simmer ten minutes, adding more water if needed.


Fondue Magic

        Gathering around the fondue pot is a fantastic way to encourage conversation. It’s also a simple way to entertain. Groovy, man!


Assorted vegetables cut into bite-sized pieces (baby carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, red onion, red, green or yellow peppers, peapods, etc.)

Assorted meat, chicken and/or fish cut into bite-sized pieces

Assorted bottled sauces (mustards, cocktail sauce, steak sauce, sweet and sour sauce, etc.)

Vegetable oil or vegetable broth

Electric fondue pot and forks


        Assemble the vegetables and meat on separate platters. Put out small dishes of sauces. Heat the oil or broth in fondue pot. Put fondue pot in the middle of the table and instruct guests to use their fondue forks to spear and cook meat and vegetables. Dip in sauce before eating.