January Newsletter from Rev Janet

How far into the year can you go before you have to stop wishing people Happy New Year? By now I will have met most of you at least once this year but there are still some people I haven’t yet seen so for those of you – Happy New Year! There, that should cover everybody. I could go on wishing you Happy New Year for most of the year though – Chinese New Year on 1st February, Ba’hai New Year (Naw-Ruz) and Indian New Year (Saka) 21st and 22nd March respectively, Islamic on 29th July, Jewish (Rosh Hashanah) on 25th September and several others in between. Many of these will fall on different dates in different years, and in fact there are so many different calendars used by different cultures around the world that it is almost always New Year for somebody, somewhere.

But back to Christianity. Have you taken your Christmas decorations down yet? I can almost hear the chorus of replies, ‘Of course we have. Twelfth night was almost a month ago, we took them down ages since.’ Yet even within our own culture and faith there are different traditions and different days for celebrating or doing things. The Orthodox Church, for example, celebrates Christmas day on 6th January so as we finish celebrating Christmas they are only just beginning.

In the western tradition the custom is usually to take down the Christmas decorations before the Feast of the Epiphany on 6th January, but even here there are variations. Following one ancient practice some people leave them up throughout the season of Epiphany until Candlemas on 2nd February which celebrates Jesus’ presentation in the Temple in Jerusalem, according to Jewish custom and Law, 40 days after his birth, and which in many Christian churches is the time for the blessing of the candles which will be used in worship during the coming year. To leave decorations up any longer than this is often regarded as risking bad luck as they provide a hiding place for evil spirits which might beset the home. To avoid this bad luck any remaining decorations should be left until Shrove Tuesday (1st March this year) when they must be taken down and burned on the fire on which the pancakes, using up the rich foods before the Lenten fast, are cooked. The previous year’s palm crosses may also be burnt on this fire and the resulting ash used to mark the penitents’ foreheads on the following day at the Ash Wednesday service marking the beginning of Lent.

Whenever you take the decorations down however the house always looks so bare afterwards, and it always seems a shame to me that at the darkest, bleakest time of the year we turn off the lights that have brightened our village and town centres, and so many homes and streets for the previous few weeks. Yet the days are now getting noticeably longer – which is where the word Lent comes from, the old English ‘lencten’ which means ‘to lengthen’ – and hopefully, despite the recent bad weather, we should soon be experiencing the joys of spring and burgeoning new life. As God replaces the artificial brightness with all the colours of creation let us celebrate the wonderful variety of nature and rejoice in our different cultures and traditions.

This year we have much to look forward to and celebrate, with the Queen’s platinum jubilee and the 50th anniversary of the United Reformed Church (of which more as the year progresses), and for me, on a very personal note, the 25th anniversary of my ordination on 22nd February 1997. So let us go forward into 2022 with thanksgiving and hope.

May God grant you a peaceful, blessed and prosperous year, Janet

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