New Year prayers and traditions



Prayers that look to the year ahead, and traditions associated with the turn of the year, including St. Luke’s story of the naming of Jesus

New Year and the Christian Church

The Church recognizes January 1 as the ‘Naming and circumcision of Christ’. In my mind, the older term, the Feast of the circumcision of Christ, has rather unfortunate overtones and implications.

Luke’s Gospel records the event in a single verse: Luke 2: 21
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child, and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Once again, we detect the Jewish roots of Christianity. The Jewish custom was to circumcise a baby boy on the eighth day of his life. (January 1 is exactly a week after Christmas.) In those days, the parents gave the child a name, also after eight days. Presumably, back then, having survived for a whole week, there was a reasonable chance that the baby would live.

It’s a glimpse into how modern medicine has changed traditions. Today, there’s a general expectation that babies will survive. Accordingly, many, perhaps almost all, parents choose a baby’s name well before its birth.

This time of year has many special days

They include the Winter Solstice (December 21st) and Christmas Day. But today is New Year’s Day. This occasion has many traditions.

We typically depict New Years Eve as an old man, carrying death’s scythe with him. In contrast, New Years Day is a newborn baby. It’s a time to make New Year resolutions, to be in some way a better person. Perhaps we plan (resolve) to give up some bad habit, or to get fit. That’s why gyms will sell many new memberships this morning!

There’s something primeval about the idea of the new year representing a new start. After all, we could resolve to start on self-improvement on any day of the 365, not just on January 1st.

Auld lang syne

Then there’s the tradition of singing in the new year with Auld lang syne. A poem by Robert Burns, date 1788. Burns called the poem part of a “collection” of Scottish songs rather than an original composition.

Auld lang syne means “old long times” or “long ago times”. The song begins by asking, Is it right to forget old times, old friendships? Thus, it’s a call to remember long-standing relationships. The rather mournful tune comes from a Scottish folk melody. It makes one think poignantly of times gone by and and friends forever lost.

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Burns’ poem has five stanzas. We ordinarily sing only verse 1 and the chorus. Often, we change the chorus last line, to:
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for the sake of auld lang syne.
This brings out the sense of why we remember the old times.


I recall the tradition of “first-footing”. It’s the idea that the first person to cross one’s threshold after midnight on New year’s day can be the bearer of good luck. Ideally, the person should be a tall, dark-haired male. As a teenager, I got deputed to first foot the neighbours. Yes, I had dark hair in those days. Tradition also demanded that I take a lump of coal with me, as a gift to symbolize warmth in the coming year. I guess that tradition must have died out now that no-one uses coal any more for heating.