Rituals for celebrating the new year


Florence Robson

Women sat on bench watching the sunrise | True Grace

As the clock strikes midnight on the 31st December, many of us will enter the new year determined to make some fundamental changes, whether to our personal appearance, our attitude or our circumstances. By mid-February, the majority of us will have given up on these New Year’s resolutions altogether. 

Rather than focusing on setting hard and fast goals and setting ourselves up to fail, why not take a gentler approach by embracing ritual as a way to mark the end of one year and the dawn of a new one? 

Rituals are structured, symbolic acts that help to shift our mindset, bypassing the logical mind and speaking more to our spirit. Many people believe that the first twelve days of the year are an especially potent time for performing rituals, symbolising the twelve months of the year and setting the tone for the days and weeks to come. 

If you’re searching for a quiet way to honour the space between old and new, try one of the following simple rituals and see how you feel afterwards.

Perform a cleansing ritual

The new year is a great time to shake off stale energy and start anew. That’s why almost every spiritual tradition for this time of year involves a “letting-go” ritual of some sort.

White sage is a popular herb in cleansing rituals. Its calming, earthy aroma is used to rid a space of negative energy and evil spirits via a process called “smudging”. Smudge sticks are readily available online and in spiritual shops — just be sure to buy the best quality you can. When you’re ready, make sure you’ve opened any windows and doors to allow stagnant energy to disperse and light your smudge stick over a flame-proof bowl. Blow out the flame after a few seconds, allowing the stick to smoke gently (much like incense). You can use your hand, a card or even an object like a feather to waft the smoke through your space. 

Whether or not you perform a smudging ritual, many traditions favour opening doors and windows on New Year’s Eve to allow the old year’s energy to leave while inviting in the fresh possibilities of a new year. 

Clear out your old possessions

The new year is also a good excuse to purge your home of any items that no longer serve you, whether that’s clothing you’ve outgrown or cookware you never use. Go through your home and collect anything you can stand to part with, ready to give away, sell or donate to a local charity for a new lease of life. 

Be aware that some traditions believe that cleaning on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day will lead to you “sweeping away” your luck. If you’d rather be safe than sorry, focus all your physical cleaning efforts on the 2nd January or beyond!

Write yourself a letter

Around New Year’s Eve, it can be a positive exercise to set aside some time to reflect on the past year, capture your thoughts and feelings and set intentions for the future. One way to do this is by writing yourself a personal letter: once you’re finished, you could save it to read on the following New Year’s Eve so you can see how much you’ve grown over the year.

If you’re not sure where to start, try following some journaling prompts. What have you accomplished over the past year? What have you learnt or gained? Where did you push yourself out of your comfort zone? What challenges did you face? While you might feel stuck at first, you’ll soon be amazed by what comes up.

Burn what you want to leave behind

If you’ve had a difficult year, you might enjoy creating a burning ceremony to help you let go of anything you don’t want to bring with you into the new year and make peace with any negative feelings. This can also be a lovely ritual to share with any companions joining you on New Year’s Eve.

Invite everyone to write down on slips of paper what they would like to release from the year gone by. Then, take turns to burn the pieces of paper over a candle or in your fireplace. As you watch the paper go up in flames, take a few deep, cleansing breaths. If you live near a body of water, you could even collect the ashes and scatter them into the water to symbolise releasing them to the current.

“The new year is a great time to shake off stale energy and start anew.”

Watch the sunrise

This ritual will appeal most to those who are planning on an early night (or those who are unlikely to go to bed until the early hours!). In Japan, the first sunrise of the year is known as “hatsuhinode”. Watching the sun rise on New Year’s Day is believed to bring good fortune for the coming year and so many people make the effort to do so. Start your year with a moment of peace by finding a viewing point, bringing a thermos of hot tea or coffee and witnessing the dawn.

Choose a word of the year — and spend twelve days embodying it

As mentioned earlier in this piece, some traditions hold that how you spend the first twelve days of the year will reflect how you will spend the next twelve months. Create the year you want by choosing a word to reflect the year ahead and then planning twelve days of activities — big or small — that embody that word.

For example, if your word is “adventure”, make a list of twelve things you can do that will inspire your curiosity and create excitement. If it’s “tranquillity”, focus those days on activities that nourish your nervous system and create a lasting sense of calm.

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