Namahage comes to encourage real change in behavior. The same can be said for New Years both on our Jewish and secular sides. I often think, “why can’t every day be New Year,” and here’s why.
Many Jews seem to have trouble with the secular New Year on January first. “Its not our New Year” is often heard, “we have Rosh Hashanah.” Indeed, in Israel it is often dismissed as “Silvester” (the feast day commemorating St. Silvester the First, an early Pope) and hotels have lost their kashrut certification for holding New Years Eve events.
Yet to my mind one can never have to many “New Years.” Indeed, according to the Mishnah we already have four “rosh hashanahs”– the first of Nissan (around April) is the New Year for kings and feasts and indeed is the first month; the first of Elul (around August) is the New Year for tithing cattle; the first of Tishre (around September) is the New Year for the reckoning of years, though it is the beginning of the seventh month; the 15th of Shevat (around February) is the New Year for trees. Each of these New Years, and indeed also January 1st can play an important role in our spiritual lives.
The dominant theme of Rosh Hashanah (the first of Tishre is the most observed of the Mishnah’s New Years) is teshuvah, self-examination leading to repentance and real change in our lives. Yet, how many of us can truly say that the changes that we commit ourselves to on this awesome day are really lasting beyond a few days, weeks, or months? Sadly, this is not so different than secular New Years resolutions. It is here that the constant refrain of rosh hashanah after rosh hashanah can make a real difference. As each one arrives through the year we have a renewed opportunity to look at the changes that we have made – “have we truly followed through on all the things we have promised ourselves and the divine?” They then can serve as moments of rededication as we set ourselves back onto the right track, helping us to make true changes in ourselves as we move through the year. We can truly not have too many “New Years.”