The New Year is a time to reflect on joy, hope, and tradition

For many, January is filled with hope: desires expressed as “New Year’s resolutions”; a run on health clubs; the choice to not drink alcohol during “Dry January.”  Personally, I choose January as the third opportunity within the calendar year to begin something new in my life.

The first is during Saturnalia, which our tradition celebrates during the week of December 17-23. The entire week is taking a fresh look at live through a carnivalesque lens.

The second opportunity comes with the actual Winter Solstice by using a two-part jar ritual. The act of opening the jar from the Summer Solstice and uncovering achievements or successful eliminations brings the opportunity to “start” something new, with a second jar to renew commitment by embracing fresh goals and new ideas to achieve during the light half of the year, from solstice to solstice.The act of sealing the jar celebrates the moment of a fresh start and a new beginning. The first jar is a blessing counted; the second is an intention blessing set.

The third chance is during the cultural celebration of Kwanzaa (December 26-January 1) with a nightly feast, storytelling, and commemoration of the seven principles. I use this time to connect with my ancestors, and on the final night, Imani, held on January 1, the last meal is a traditional Southern dish, a variation on Hoppin’ John.

Food by Clio Ajana

New Year’s Feast Variation to Honor the Ancestors – Black Eye Peas, Mushrooms, Bacon, Spinach, Onion – on 7th Day of Kwanzaa (Imani-Faith) [C. Ajana]

On New Year’s night, my calendar considers these variations through my religious, cultural, and practical lens. As an enrolled agent, the American tax calendar season weighs heavy. For years, the blessing of New Year’s Day was the suspension of space and time where all problems and serious considerations could wait until January 2. For one day, peace, goodwill, laughter, and a good time is the goal for all.

January is a time for blessings, for joy, and for considering and perhaps resetting our ethical stances.

My doctor took the time to call me on a Saturday to talk about my health, and we spent over 90 minutes explaining test results, medical procedures, and confirming next steps. My prior nervousness dissipated to a mere ripple after that conversation. Her presence, patience, and perseverance are blessings I do not take for granted in a world where lives so often depend on emotional connections between medical personnel and our fragile human selves.

Technology and artificial intelligence are blessings because we are given as individuals and as a society the chance to broaden our understanding of new topics and re-engage with old ideas. Electronic medical record use enables patients to know that their information can be read by personnel without the need to facilitate record transfers for each clinic, urgent care, individual doctor or hospital. While I love old-fashioned paper maps, more people avoid getting lost through the use of global positioning systems (GPS) in cars, on mobile phones, and on mall kiosk maps. These uses save us time, and when we only have finite life spans, time is more than money – it is a blessing that we can use right away.

A colleague just posted picture of her newborn son. He looks adorable, and his newborn presence with wrinkly skin, closed eyes, and a droop in his older sister’s tiny coverall reminds me that for every day that a child comes into this world, we are granted more hope and more opportunity to see the world through that child’s eyes. We acknowledge this blessing with every New Year’s Day television broadcast highlighting the first babies of the new year.

Newborn [Pixabay]

The ability to be there for my friends and family, and the ability to have them be there for me, is not something to take for granted. The more recently reported epidemic of loneliness means that so many of us since the pandemic are leading lives that are rich with technological interaction yet poor in emotional satisfaction and interaction with other humans.

The U.S. Surgeon’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community emphasizes the benefits of interaction, the health risks resulting from a lack of interaction, and six areas where we can advance social connection. Some groups most prone to a lack of connection are “people with poor physical or mental health, disabilities, financial insecurity, those who live alone, single parents, as well as younger and older populations.”

While blessings are good, ethical considerations help in appreciating these blessings when they do appear.  The blessing of social media needs to be weighed by the ethical considerations of the use of social media. 

Although it may not be popular to admit to loneliness, a quick internet search brings up many articles on the subject. For members of Gen Z, articles on what might be causing feelings of loneliness and isolation abound, including a few that connect social media consumption with the rise in feeling lonely – “overstimulation, social media and a dependency shift.”

As the Margaret Corona notes in her post, “A note from a once lonely member of Gen Z” for The Daily Free Press, a student publication at Boston University in April, 2023:

“Overstimulation suggests we bite off more than we can chew. People are distracted by work, chores, progress, social media, and the activities of today and tomorrow. Social media makes us feel alone and left out, and a dependency shift makes us rely excessively on technology and artificial intelligence.”

Ethically, we are torn as we begin this new year in by political considerations of which individual is qualified or not to lead our country as a whole. We are torn by the medical ethical considerations, such as the recent case in Texas where a lower court granted an exception to conduct an abortion due to the extreme medical circumstances. Sadly, the case was overturned on an emergency appeal to the Texas state Supreme Court; the woman eventually left the state to have the procedure in an effort to save her life, her viability to have more children, and agony of carrying a child with a fatal condition.

As we wrestle with these large issues, are we a nation and a people who are guided by the influence of money, politics, and convenience or ethical values? If the latter, are we fully cognizant of the ethics we ingest, those we teach to our children, and those we share in our communities? Are we choosing to build a foundation that will nourish our lives, our bodies, our souls, and our humanity  or are we choosing to follow along with what others advocate?

We hate to keep asking, but it is serious. Costs have hit us too. 

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When we choose our ethics and our beliefs, be they from our spiritual and religious backgrounds or our choices in friend groups, families, and work lives, we are forming a foundation that will guide us into the future.  Hopefully, it is one that we want, not just one that we find through blind wandering.

Often ethics as a topic comes into play when we memorialize a person or attend their funeral.

At the public funeral service for Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Justice of the United States, her youngest son Jay eulogized his mother by including observations from a final letter to her children and recollections of his mother’s maxims to them as children: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all; get it done; and don’t hit your brother.”

I found a great deal of wisdom in reflecting on the life of a woman whose term on the United States Supreme Court covered many “firsts.”

Funerals are often times for recalling the best of a person who has died, including their humor, and how the person touched others through their choices in life. While Sandra Day O’Connor’s funeral was not an exception to this rule, it did have me wondering why our ethics and our blessings are most often revealed towards the end of life or even after we have died.


Appreciation of our blessings and a consideration of ethics at the start of the year can lead to joy. Happiness in life consists of the many steps we take at any given time and in any direction to help us reach our individual goals. In short: achieving joy.

I find joy at the start of this year in the little things: a flight that is on time with few if any delays on the part of TSA or fellow passengers; making a new friend at a work conference who works a few miles away from my job on the same side of town; realizing that angst is rarely about the actual work, but about the written bureaucratic stuff that can drag down one’s spirits, so taking a break brings pure ecstatic joy because one can breathe in camaraderie and collaboration and breathe out discontent. The joy of a conference is in rediscovering what makes what one does special and more importantly, in uncovering the layer to reveal why one still loves a given job or profession after a year, 10 years or even 20 years.

Joy comes from allowing the self to breathe and just be without guilt, blame, or shame. To feel joy, whether it is great pleasure, glee, or delight, or bliss means our truest and most pure selves can dip into the pool of life and emerge refreshed, sated, renewed, satisfied, and ready to spread the love to others. We embrace joy as children without fear.

As we start the year, let’s count our blessings, do an ethical re-set, and celebrate our joy.

As we start the year 2024, I consider the expression of “giving flowers” to someone while they are alive. This requires speaking up on the part of the recipient as well as the giver.  To speak too highly of ourselves is sometimes considered arrogant and at times, misleading.  To speak too little is to convey a type of modesty.

Blessings are family and our family, whether it be of origin or by choice, are our blessings. Considering what matters to us as a moral stance provides guidance. Combined, joy is the time in the sauna taking in the steam before jumping into the cold pool and allowing our very molecules to buzz in exhilaration.

We know it when we feel it, when we see it in others, and when we allow ourselves to just exist without worrying what someone else thinks about what we doing, who we are, why we are, and how we are.

Let’s have some joy in 2024!


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