January 1 is the World Day of Peace in the Catholic Church
Australians seem at a bit of a loss when celebrating New Years Day. Many people spend the night before the telly, drinking as they watch the fireworks over Sydney Harbour Bridge on TV and wait for the clock to show midnight. Then they blow car horns and yahoo. New Years morning is spent collecting bottles and broken glass from beaches, watching the cricket on TV or lying on the beach. A few people make New Years resolutions.
The Catholic Church has also struggled with New Years Day. It has variously been called the Octave Day of Christmas, the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, the Holy Name of Jesus, and the Motherhood of Mary. For many years it has also been named the World Day of Peace in the Catholic Church.
Some other cultures do it better. They include celebrating, drinking and splashing of water, but also have domestic rituals in which people wash their faces to wipe away the sins of the past year and to wash the new year in. There is a time for reflection on the things of the past which they regret, and for turning to the new year as a time of possibility and change.
Of course there are reasons why New Years Day has been downplayed in Australia and in the church. Because many people are on holidays, it is in a no man’s land between the ending of one year and the beginning of one another. It is a time of forgetfulness, not of reflection.
In the Christian year, too, the key celebration of end and beginning takes place at Easter. The dying of the old and the possibility of the new are expressed above all in the death and rising of Christ in Holy Week.
So New Years Day has become a Do It Yourself day. And most people decide to do very little. For that reason it may very suitable as the Day of Peace. The things we associate with New Year’s Day are the simple and apparently trivial activities that are the blessing of peace: things like being able to spend time with families, to be free from the need to work every day in order to eat, to lie on the beach unafraid of bombs or bullets.
These things are the fruits of peace. It is a gift to be grateful and treasured, especially in a society that tends to be hostile to the immigrant communities from whom so many of our workers and those we serve at Jesuit Social Services come. It also constantly needs to be built and rebuilt in the face of the things in us and around us that encourage violence and war.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.