When I was a seminarian, the Orthodox youth was seriously occupied by the topic of New Year’s celebration. We were sharing with one another details about what exactly this or that particular elder blesses on this day; we discussed the strategies for parish priests to distract their flock from the celebration; we were indignant with all these people who got drunk just on the eve of the martyr Boniface’s name day; we saw the New Year celebration as a blasphemous communist alternative to Christmas. It is hard to remember the details of our discussions now, but I distinctly remember that we all agreed on December 31 and January 1 being ordinary days, leaving ourselves no option but to sleep on the New Year’s Eve.
I lived with that conviction from the very beginning of my church life, all the way until marriage, ordination and my first New Year in family (and priestly) status. I think it was on December twenty-eighth that my spouse asked me how we were going to celebrate the New Year. Remembering the pious discourses of my seminary times, without the slightest doubt I replied that we weren’t. “We aren’t?” my matushka asked me again. “Nope.” I replied with no less certainty. “Are you all right?” she then asked in a manner that really shook my confidence. It was then that I clearly understood that I had no answer to that. It was easy for me to be smart at the seminary, when I had no wife or family to care for. But as soon as I got married, it became clear that all the convictions of my undisturbed and irresponsible youth were completely out of place in family life. Both for me and my wife the coming holiday had been an important date during our childhood and, partly, adolescence. It was not my wife’s or my children’s fault that I denied it its privileged status in times of my neophyte exuberance. Perhaps, something really was wrong with me. As one would expect, we did celebrate the New Year then. After the Liturgy served in the morning (December 31 fell on Sunday that year), the two of us sat at the festive table, laid with all simplicity of a young family. It has been twenty years now since that New Year’s Eve, and for me the question of whether believers should celebrate the New Year remains completely off the table.
I declare with full responsibility: do celebrate! And please spare the talk about the terrible partying in the middle of Advent. When I hear this narrative, I am always tempted to ask the zealots spreading it, why they give believers so little credit? Seriously, it looks as if any Orthodox Christian’s hidden desire is getting completely hammered. It becomes fulfilled the minute he sits down at the holiday table with his family instead of going to bed or attending the night Liturgy in church. And when he reaches the desired condition, he is most certain to start dancing, perhaps even on the table. It goes without saying that everything will then certainly end with debauchery and fist-fighting. I do agree that we see enough of such disgrace during the New Year’s celebrations. But, excuse me; what does it have to do with faithful Christians? If a believer celebrates the New Year within the limits set by the fasting rules, how is he participating in the lewdness of those who spend their time in excessive drinking, gluttony, adultery and rowdiness? A stupid question, isn’t it?
Okay, I agree, not all believers can easily resist the temptation. One can start celebrating quite decently, and later lose control… But judging only by those inclined to lose control would mean laying one’s fault at somebody else’s door. Church people in general do not tend to wildly celebrate anything. So why forbid them to celebrate the New Year if they are generally indisposed to overindulge in celebrating? It turns out that completely others are to blame for the fact that they walk without measure? There is simply no logic here.
New Year, of course, is a secular holiday, but there is nothing bad in its essence. It is quite the opposite. Have you ever noticed how we have lost the habit of simply being near one another because of this vanity, which has almost become the norm of life lately? I mean family first of all. You may have heard about the increase in the divorce rate, caused by the strict quarantine that we faced in spring. People were forced to spend much more time together than they were used to. As a result, some of them realized that they were unable to stand one another.
The fact is that the time spent together will bring joy only if we learn how to make it a joy. In this context, holidays, including the New Year present a perfect opportunity to gather a family, for example, at the table. So why neglect a good opportunity? After all, we can celebrate with all modesty and sobriety and refrain from unnecessary entertainment. Plus we will have more opportunities to be around one another, decorating a Christmas tree with the whole family, and preparing for the holiday. Plus the extra joy of pleasing children with gifts!
Indeed there are many ways to celebrate, and although some people tend to overindulge in superfluity, it’s not the holiday, but a person. A drunkard will get drunk and a trouble-maker will pick a fight on Easter or Christmas just the same. What the New Year can become for each of us depends only on us. Turn it into a warm family holiday, and the question of whether it is permissible for believers to celebrate the New Year will answer itself.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds