Out with the old, in with the new! That practice seems to have a dual application at this time of the year. We all like to have new things. There is something inspiring and refreshing about the newness. I even feel a bit inspired when my journaling takes me to a new set of pages, usually in notebook form. Something about the unmarred condition motivates me to write that first journal entry.
New things have a luster, or a freshness about them that brings about a sense of value and appreciation. I have a friend who anticipates giving his wife a new set of eight glasses each Christmas. He can hardly wait to take them out of their packaging, remove from the kitchen cabinet the plastic cups and peanut butter jars (with part of the label still on them), and replace them with nice, matching glasses.
You may have heard of a practice called, "Boxing Day," whose origin traces back to the 17th century in Great Britain. Occurring the day after Christmas, a popular notion is that families take that opportunity to discard their collections of useless and worn-out items around the house to make room for the new things they have obtained during the holidays. After all, if one accumulates and never discards, a house full of things will be out of control!
As practical and responsible as that sounds, Boxing Day is not about boxing up unwanted items in order to reduce the clutter (nor is it about punching Uncle Don without consequence!). Also known as the "Christmas Box," its original purpose was to allow servants, having waited on the masters throughout Christmas Day, to have the day after Christmas for spending with their families. Additionally, most were given a "Christmas Box" containing gifts, bonuses, and even leftover food.
The idea developed further as a way to express appreciation at Christmastime to tradesmen for their good service throughout the year. This is often practiced in the American culture, but we simply call it a Christmas bonus. Giving to the needy and to people in service positions truly captures the heart of Christmas as expressed in the generosity of God the Father, who so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son as a redeeming sacrifice for the sins of man.
Somewhere along the way, as it seems to happen with many practices and traditions, Boxing Day digressed to the point that its meaning became all about us, at least in the minds of some. Do you see it? Discarding my old stuff to make room for my new stuff is a selfishly motivated practice. And while we do not officially recognize Boxing Day as a national holiday as some countries do, a general misunderstanding of the occasion has developed over recent centuries.
Out with the old, in with the new can also pertain to the New Year, but what does it mean? In its origin, rather than out with the old year and in with a new year, the idiom seems to concern old habits being replaced with new, better, healthier ones. Many people do this in the form of a New Year's resolution: this year I resolve to decrease my television time and take up jogging, for example.
Those who refuse to make resolutions because they never work may have missed the point. With this new year, a fresh, clean slate, I want to be healthier, or more caring, or more time efficient, or whatever else might be needed to make me a better me. The New Year is a motivator for us to start afresh.
However, I do not want it to be primarily about me. My purpose for self-improvement is that it benefits not only my own life, but the life of those around me: my family, my marriage, my church, my work environment, my community, and my country. So give it some thought: what can you do in this new year that will positively impact your life and those around you?
Steven Callis is the minister at First Church of the Nazarene in Douglasville.