I wrote this piece last year for New Year's Eve/The Feast of Mary, Mother of God. It wasn't published, so I'm putting it up this year on my site.
January 1st is the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, a feast celebrated by Catholics and some other Christians. It falls on the eighth day of the Christmas season, and commemorates Christ’s mother, Mary, under one of her most glorious titles: The Mother of God, or Theotokos.
But of course, this feast coincides with New Year’s Day. The holy day can be drowned out by the secular celebrations of the new year—and the previous night's New Year's Eve festivities, in all their raucous pomp. How can we focus on the humble obedience of Mary during a time of champagne-fueled excess and extravagance? On a year like this, when the feast falls on a Monday, many bishops have dispensed with the obligation to attend Mass on the feast day. Yet if we view the Church’s feasts as gifts to us, we should want to participate in them even when we are not obliged to.
In fact, the momentous joy of Mary, the New Eve, should be an antidote to the clamor of New Year’s Eve.
Ringing in the New Year can be fun, but it is sometimes depressing—what is all this noise, activity, and carousing for? What do we find in the cold light of day, as we stumble over discarded party hats and noisemakers? The year cycling again, the time making one more turn, without any particular reason to hope for the next year to be any better than the year before it. Here comes the new year, same as the old year.
Celebrating Mary, Mother of God reminds us that God has freed us from the endless grind of history. Through a woman, a woman who said "Yes" to God, history was broken open. The weary cycle of violence and sin was shown not to be the last word. Something really new happened in Mary for us all: the Incarnation, and through it, the redemption of the world.
Catholics, therefore, should celebrate this feast emphatically, and not let it be overcome by the noise of New Year's. I for one plan to go to Mass on January 1st. My wife and I will sing our favorite Marian songs, like the beautiful “Salve Regina.” And we’ll strive to imitate Mary’s faith and love as we look at the year behind us and the year ahead of us.
There’s an annual tradition my parents taught me that my wife and I now practice. It’s a way to let Mary's feast inform our observance of the change of years. We keep a gratitude jar throughout the year, writing down things we are thankful for on slips of paper and putting these, folded up, into a jar. On December 31st, we look back on the year in gratitude by opening the gratitude jar and reading our gratitude out loud. In this we follow Mary's example, as she heard the good news of shepherds and angels about her son and held onto these things, pondering them in her heart.
Let us ponder God’s goodness in our hearts all year, but especially on the day when Mary reminds us how, through her motherhood, God broke into history and offered us the chance to be made new.