No, not "again" because I've said "Happy New Year" on previous January 1sts. "Again" because, as my Catholic readers know, this is the second New Year celebration we have had--the first being the first Sunday of Advent, when the new liturgical year began.
When you come to think about it, it's rather fitting that for Christians the new year begins with the celebration of the birth of Christ--with the preparation and spiritual planning for that occasion, followed by the celebration of the day itself, followed by feasts celebrating the Holy Family and the Epiphany--and then moving all too quickly to the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord and the beginning of His public life and ministry. Advent begins the whole liturgical year, and the spiritual preparations we make during that season help us to focus more closely on the person of Christ, on His coming, His Gospel, His Passion and death on the Cross, and then His resurrection and the great commission given to the Apostles to continue His work on earth following His Ascension.
For many in the secular world, though, Christmas is a huge commercial blow-out celebration closely followed by New Year's Eve, with its parties and dissipation. To ignore Advent altogether and to see Christmas as tied in with an ending instead of linked to the beginning is to see the year in a very different way. January 1st becomes a day to set personal goals and shake one's head over long-abandoned resolutions from the previous year, instead of a way to honor Mary, the Mother of God, and to continue to reflect on the infancy of that precious Child--Whose baptism in the Jordan by St. John we will celebrate in two short weeks.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with self-examination and the setting of personal goals. However, the secular world has a tendency to do two things: deny the spiritual element of one's problems, and mess with the timing.
For instance, let's just say that someone (we won't say who she is or if she's typing right now, etc.) wants to lose some weight in 2011. If she is motivated by the secular world and its calendar, she will want to toss out the celebratory foods in the midst of the Church's season of celebration, get to a gym or make exercise commitments, and ignore the fact that here in the U.S. Catholics are celebrating Epiphany tomorrow, and that there are several more celebrations from here to January 9th. She will also, quite likely, ignore any spiritual battles, focus on the scale, set herself up for failure, and be purchasing Girl Scout cookies and Cadbury eggs in the middle of Lent.
However, if our fictional woman (truly--fictional! I never buy Girl Scout cookies!!) is mindful of the liturgical calendar, she will not panic and cease participating in this season of celebration (though she may find herself reflecting on the virtue of temperance). She will also add prayer to her routines as well as exercise in due time, and will strive for balance in meals as in all things. She will know that the Church's season of penance and fasting will approach in its turn, and will neither fast in the midst of feasting, nor feast in the midst of fasting.
Keeping the Church's new year in mind doesn't mean that we don't welcome the new calendar year of our Lord twenty thousand eleven, naturally. It is another year full of the opportunities for grace, after all. But our liturgical new year reminds us that Christmas is not just one big (lightly) religious-themed event with which to end our year; it, or really Advent, is the beginning for a reason. I've heard the expression "We are an Easter people," (and yes, I've often cringed at the implication the speaker is trying to convey). But it is more true that we are an Advent people. We're not waiting for the birth of the Babe in Bethlehem, not anymore. We are waiting, every day, Advent and Christmas and Lent and Easter and New Year's and every other day, for Him to come again as He promised. And if we are not among the generation that will see His Second Coming during our earthly life--still, He comes. Our hope in His coming stands at the beginning of our Catholic calendar--and the light of that hope and expectation illumines all our days in this year of grace.