Celebrating New Year’s and the spirit of Kwanzaa: A meditation on aligning our divine purpose

As we wrap up Kwanzaa and prepare to embark on a new year, the history and traditions of New Year's Eve can inform our outlook on the year ahead.

New Year’s Day, New Year's Resolutions, Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa principles, Imani (Faith), Faith and Spirituality, Black Pentecostal tradition, Christianity, COGIC, theGrio.com
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“Notes on faith” is theGrio’s inspirationalinterdenominational series featuring Black thought leaders across faiths.

In the Afro-Protestant Church tradition, New Year’s Eve is celebrated as “Watch Night” — also known as “Freedom’s Eve” — when many folks find themselves in church at some point during the evening, usually as the clock strikes midnight. Historically and culturally, the tradition commemorates the night of Dec. 31, 1862, when people of African ancestry gathered in churches and private homes to await the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 1863, which marked the implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation. Within the proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln issued a declaration that all enslaved people in Confederate-held territory were to be set free. Thus, the evening of Dec. 31 became a night of great anticipation and hope for African Americans in subsequent years as they eagerly celebrated their long-awaited pursuit of liberty.

Today, Watch Night has come to represent a time for reflection, prayer, resolve, unity and celebration within the African-American community. The evening prompts us to acknowledge the resilience and strength of ancestors who faced unimaginable horrors while holding onto the hope of a brighter future.

As we look to our own futures, we are reminded that time flies when you’re having fun, staying “booked and busy,” or even trying to make “money moves.” Time waits for no one. And even as we attempt to define the ever-evolving social norms, we are gearing up for another year and seemingly another era. 

Dear reader, we may not know exactly what each of you went through during the course of 2023, but as we reflect upon our collective journey, we understand that whatever you may have experienced, you have made it to this point for a divine purpose. As we wrap up Kwanzaa and enter the new year of 2024, we challenge you, in whatever your faith tradition, to set the intention that your purpose will continue to align with the greater good and greater empowerment of our people. Affirming one of the divine principles of agreement, we stand with all who seek wholeness within themselves and within the relationships that surround and sustain them. 

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What has been your experience as you reflect on the year past?  Many of us cannot go forward without looking back — which can be a mixed bag of emotions, right?  When we think about 2023, for some, it involves a highlight reel that brings us excitement for the coming year. For others, this year has been filled with challenges that may stoke anxiety or extra anticipation to get the year off to a great start. Wherever your heart and mind may reside in these closing hours of 2023, here are three tips for entering into the new year with great momentum, aligning with the themes of growth, empowerment, and unity:

  1. Set clear intentions and goals: As we approach the new year, take time to reflect on your personal and collective aspirations. Whether or not you actively celebrate Kwanzaa, take inventory of and embrace its seventh principle, Imani (Faith), believing in your ability to achieve your dreams. Write down your goals, both short-term and long-term, and create a vision board to visualize your aspirations. Share these intentions with your trusted community to foster accountability. 
  2. Cultivate cooperative relationships: In the spirit of Kwanzaa’s fourth principle, Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), focus on building and nurturing strategic, cooperative relationships within your community. Collaborate with others to achieve shared goals and foster economic empowerment, particularly planning to share the burdens during inevitable life events so no one ever feels overwhelmed or isolated in emergencies. Explore joining community organizations, support networks or cooperative initiatives that align with your values and objectives. 
  3. Embrace self-care and wellness: Amidst it all, do not neglect yourself. Prioritize everything it takes to ensure you can show up to life as your most enthused and vibrant self. Recognize and commit to the importance of self-care and wellness as essential components of personal and collective vitality. This prioritization includes self-care practices that promote mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

By setting clear intentions, cultivating cooperative relationships, and embracing self-care and wellness, individuals and communities can prepare for the next year with a sense of purpose, unity, and empowerment, aligning with the themes inspired by the Black church prophetic tradition. May we see all of you in your greatness in 2024, and may we all be the favorable change we seek to see in the world — and as the Irish blessing often quoted by the Rev. Dr Otis Moss III of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ reads:

May the road rise to meet you

May the wind be at your back

May the sun shine warm upon your face

May the rain fall softly on your fields

And until we meet again

May you keep safe

In the gentle, loving arms of God

Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones is a faith leader helping people to find their groove in a fast-paced world, as a consultant for various arts and faith organizations and professor of music in contemporary societies at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England. She is an award-winning author of Flaming? The Peculiar Theopolitics of Fire and Desire in Black Male Gospel Performance (Oxford University Press). For more information, please visit DrAlisha.com.

Rev. Calvin Taylor Skinner is dedicated to empowering frontline communities in Knoxville, Tenn. and the United Kingdom. He uses Faith and Policy to address energy justice, criminal justice reform, voter education/mobilization, electoral politics, and global affairs. Along with his wife, Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones, they lead InSight Initiative, a consulting firm focusing on capacity building and live events production.

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