Have you taken down your decorations yet? We have, and we have replaced them with bowls of bulbs as the promise of spring – something hopeful. But we are also giving a nod to a continuing festive feeling with lots of candles, an open fire and a string or two of fairy lights still hanging about. It is too damp and dark to let go of that Christmas cosiness just yet.
In fact, I am curious as to why we feel often compelled to embrace austerity and discipline at this particular time of year, making resolutions to embrace a new diet just as we return to work post-holiday or to refresh a running regime at the coldest and muddiest time of year. I wonder why we have to make January harder than it already is, especially this year.
That is not to say we don’t need to make adjustments to diet, exercise or other parts of our lifestyle, sometimes urgently. And the peak of Christmas festivities should probably not last for very long. But this year, I’m sticking with the older traditions of the church calendar. Here, a smaller sense of festival and pleasure continues on and off until the end of January, as we work our way through the revelries of Epiphany, the blessings of Plough Monday (when ploughing the fields for spring sowing historically re-started), and the celebration of the Baptism of Christ, until we reach the Feast of the Presentation of Christ at Candlemas.
From here it is a hop, skip and a jump to Ash Wednesday and Lent. At which point, having survived the winter and with spring on the horizon, we are arguably more likely to succeed in the necessary work of self-reflection, self-discipline and change. We are unlikely to be out of the woods pandemic-wise even then, but we will be closer. So I for one will take the wisdom of church tradition to heart this year and go gently into January.
And if you are still looking for a New Year’s resolution this year, why not resolve like to me to start the year praying these phrases from the Methodist Covenant Prayer. “I am no longer my own but yours… I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal… You are mine and I am yours.”