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New Year’s Day has never been my favorite day off. What does it in fact celebrate? July 4th, now that’s good wholesome family-style patriotism, made better with fireworks. Everything is better with fireworks and besides, John Adams told us to light the day up, “solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations.” There might be some pushback today with the guns reference, but you know what he meant. In any case, it is a family day, a neighbor’s day, a community and national day, an observance that has some heft. Oh, and it’s got BBQ.

Thanksgiving, that’s a good one too. It would be better, though, if everyone stopped fretting about how to handle the relatives and all the family drama they bring with them to the table. I don’t know how to tell people this in any comprehensible way, but, listen, that’s what families are for—drama.

The idea of Thanksgiving (think Norman Rockwell) is still a crisp iconic memory. There is an ache for that, a nostalgia that seeks a simpler time.

As for Christmas Day, well, I am really tired of hearing about the War on Christmas, with offended Christians lashing out at people offended by Christians. So what? Taken in the whole, Christians have always been a bit offensive to the surrounding culture even when the culture was Christendom.

While some groups think that Christians should defend the day of our Savior’s birth by boycotting stores that don’t use Christmas lingo enough (see the American Family Association’s naughty and nice list chooses), I’m less convinced by this approach. Shouldn’t we be asking whether Christians themselves are honoring the day by love of neighbor in relieving the poor in their distress, or by just standing around appropriately stunned at the notion that the Most High God of Israel reduced himself to the wordless silence of an infant.

Then there is New Year’s Day, preceded by New Year’s Eve. After gorging ourselves on family, patriotism, giving thanks, and carols in worship, we go drinking and stay up late so we can spend New Year’s Day hung-over with football while noshing down party snacks. New Year’s Day is for recovering from the bacchanal excesses committed the previous night.

There is nothing associated with the day to confirm the joyous security of familial compatriots. New Year’s Day doesn’t see one excitedly awaiting the arrival of kids and grand kids and the whole extended mess of relatives. There is no winsome moment where the eyes of children are bedazzled by Christmas lights and festive wrapping paper. Nobody’s cheering a John Phillip Sousa march. In comparison with the others, January 1 is a pretty thin day, faith- and family-wise.

But is that all New Year’s really is, just a clock clicking the hour? The way we search within ourselves for a resolve we can keep (like the twenty minutes of exercise three times a week that doctor hectors me about) is suggestive of a desire to become a better person. The turn of the year, maybe this year in fact, if it pleases God, will find me seizing every opportunity to shape a year of my choosing: a better husband, father, neighbor, and friend. And if I don’t quite manage all that this year, still, there is next year to try it.

Russell E. Saltzman is a former Lutheran pastor transitioning to the Roman Catholic Church. His latest book is Speaking of the Dead. He can be reached at

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