A milkweed pod, split open, spills its feathery white seeds into the air

On the Sunday closest to January 1st, many Unitarian Universalist congregations find creative ways to celebrate or mark the beginning of a new year. Themes can include reflection upon the year that has just passed; letting go of regrets and pain; hope for the promise of the year to come; resolutions to change; the passage of time; hope; expectation; and dreaming of a creating a better tomorrow.

Following are a handful of glimpses into how our UU congregations find new ways to honor the New Year:

  • The most widespread UU tradition is a Fire Communion, sometimes known as a "burning bowl" ceremony, in which people write, on scraps of paper, phrases that represent the year behind them and bring the paper forward to burn it in (clearly, the fire's container is carefully planned, and there are fire extinguishers nearby). For a more dramatic ritual, some congregations use flash paper -- available at magic stores -- which burns extremely bright and quickly, leaving no residue.
A small card, with an angel on it, reads "Transformation." a curl of orange yarn rests on the card.
  • As an alternative ritual to the Fire Communion, many UU congregations place a large bowl of water on their altar, and people write words or phrases about the past year on pieces of dissolving paper — such as quilting fabric. When they bring their paper forward to submerge it in water, the ritual represents letting go of what people wish to leave behind them.
  • In conjunction with dissolving paper in a bowl of water, Rev. Laura Bogle reports that at Foothills UU Congregation in Maryville TN, parishioners also use fabric markers to write or draw their intention for the new year on a large white table cloth (a bedsheet works, too). Each year the congregation adds more words to the same cloth, layering past years' intentions over the years, which provides an opportunity to be reminded of what they collectively intended the years before.
  • In congregations like the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, the first Sunday after New Year's Day is a "requiem" service, in which the congregation enjoys and celebrates the works of those who have died in the previous year (not in the congregation, but rather the scientists, poets, artists, and musicians in the general population). Rev. Nathan Ryan explains that curating this list is a year-long enterprise, and that it can be surprisingly meaningful to lift up those who have contributed to the world in surprising ways.
With heaps of produce in the foreground, a line of youth distribute food from boxes at the Haley House, in Boston.
  • Some UU congregations feature a "decades service" near the New Year, in which a person from ech decade of life offers a brief (2 minute) reflection to a question—such as the one posed by Mary Oliver in her poem "The Summer Day:" What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
  • At Palomar UU Fellowship in Vista, CA, Rev. Dr. Beth Johnson leads a guided meditation during worship, inviting the congregation to open to what they would like to bring in for the coming year. She then passes around a basket of Angel Cards with a single word on them. Many parishioners love it, and tuck the card in their name tag, and report throughout the year about how they "worked with their word" throughout the year.
  • Rev. Elea Kemler, at First Parish Church of Groton (MA), holds a New Year service not in the sanctuary, but in their large coffee hour room. After lighting a chalice and holding a very simple worship service that includes "The Work of Christmas" by Howard Thurman (#615 in Singing the Living Tradition), the congregation takes part in the all-ages activity of making about 200 bag lunches for local shelters, assembly line style. There's also a card-making table, so that a handmade card and note can be put in each lunch. People then deliver the boxes of lunches and shelters are usually pretty glad to have one meal taken care of during a week that is hard to cover. After lunches are made, the congregation shares coffee and leftover Christmas cookies.
  • Rev. Shari Woodbury spent the fall collecting milkweed pods (filled with silky fluff) and developed a Meditation on the Turn of the Year, in which milkweed will evoke the act of letting things go, and seeds of the new. She'll pass out milkweed pods during worship, and invite people at the conclusion of the service to step outside and release their regrets and send out their intentions for the new year by releasing feathery milkweed from their pods into the wind.

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  • At UU Church West (Brookfield, WI), Rev. Suzelle Lynch has encouraged improv services at the New Year. One year's service ("How to Have a Jazzy New Year") featured a jazz pianist, and another year's centered around a participatory improv story where folks from the congregation pulled props and prompts at various points as worship leaders acted out the story. There was also a singer-songwriter, who created a new song verse to recap each chapter; the congregation sang a chorus before the story continued.

If you have more New Year ideas to add to this list, please let your WorshipWeb Curator know! Email worshipweb@uua.org.

Unitarian Universalist Perspectives

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Displaying 1 - 20 of 34

  • Let this year be a clean slate for new beginnings.
    Prayer | By Addae Ama Kraba | March 29, 2024 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: Beginnings, Courage, Creativity, Empathy, New Year, Peace, WorshipWeb, Worship
  • What “toast, boast, and oath” might you offer this January?
    Reflection | By Sarah Klinger Osborne | January 3, 2024 | From Braver/Wiser
    Tagged as: Beginnings, Choice, Contemplation, Integrity, New Year, Searching, Self-Care, Self-Respect, Worship
  • May we remember that we each carry inside of us a spark of the Divine.
    Blessing | By Beth Monhollen | July 24, 2023 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: Acceptance, Beginnings, Grace, New Year, WorshipWeb, Worship
  • I’m proud to belong to a living religious tradition that embraces evolution, both scientifically and spiritually.
    Reflection | By Tim Atkins | January 4, 2023 | From Braver/Wiser
    Tagged as: Beginnings, New Year, Spiritual Practice, Worship
  • What’s the one word you hope will define your upcoming year?
    Reflection | By Tim Atkins | December 30, 2020 | From Braver/Wiser
    Tagged as: Choice, Discernment, Identity, New Year, Spiritual Practice, Worship
  • For the new year, just days old, beginning today, always beginning: We light our chalice, symbol of faith, perseverance, and hope, in astonished thanksgiving and irrepressible praise. For beginnings that emerge out of endings, appear amidst continuity, become visible in hindsight: We light our...
    Chalice Lighting | By Lisa Doege | January 8, 2020 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: Beginnings, Faith, Gratitude, Homecoming / Ingathering, Hope, New Year, Unitarian Universalism
  • One of my most treasured New Year’s traditions is coming up with a word for the year: a single word that I want to be the theme for my entire year. When I’m questioning what’s the right thing to do, I will look to my word of the year for guidance.
    Reflection | By Tim Atkins | January 1, 2020 | From Braver/Wiser
    Tagged as: 4th Principle (Truth & Meaning), Beginnings, Direct Experience, Integrity, Letting Go, New Year, Purpose, Spiritual Practice, Vision
  • This ritual entails having an empty vase on the altar, and cut flowers. It's especially meaningful to have founders or other "pillars" of the congregation have flowers with them in the service, and to have the congregation's children bring those flowers forward and put them in the vase (perhaps...
    Affirmation | By Erika Hewitt | August 8, 2019 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: 3rd Principle (Acceptance & Spiritual Growth), 7th Principle (Interconnected Web), All Souls Day, Direct Experience, Generations, History, Humanism, Identity, Installations, New Member Ceremony, New Year, Secular
  • I invite you now to join me in the spirit of meditation and imagination. Find a comfortable position in your seat and close your eyes. Take a deep breath and try to find the restorative power of air and water in the breath. We must breathe to live, but our bodies also need water to survive. Our...
    Meditation | By Israel Buffardi | December 7, 2018 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: 6th Principle (World Community), Beginnings, Body, Commitment, Courage, Creativity, Generations, History, Judaism, New Year, Power, Rosh Hashanah, Searching, Spiritual Practice
  • Let us ground ourselves in gratitude: using the colorful paper and something to write with, we prepare for our Gratitude Confetti ritual. Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg https://www.sharonsalzberg.com/on-being-column-the-hardship-we-accept/"…; I encourage myself to remember that being grateful...
    Ritual | By Karen G. Johnston | January 23, 2018 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: Beginnings, Ending, Gratitude, Humanism, Integrity, New Year, Secular, Unitarian Universalism
  • As we come together, let us pause to take stock of the year now concluding: its moments of happiness and hurt, its times of accomplishment and failure, and its occasions of inspiration and fear. We add these experiences to the tapestries of our years, and look bravely towards a new horizon.
    Opening | By Paul Vachon | January 23, 2018 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: Beginnings, Contemplation, Direct Experience, Ending, Humanism, New Year, Secular, Unitarian Universalism
  • This is the season of endings and beginnings.
    Opening | By Erika Hewitt | November 26, 2017 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: Advent, Beginnings, Ending, Letting Go, New Year, Patience, Spiritual Practice, Spirituality
  • Fire consumes, and casts a bright light. May our chalice flame consume our regrets for the past, our fears about the future, and our worries about today. May it light for us a path of joy and peace.
    Chalice Lighting | By Debra Burrell | November 21, 2017 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: 3rd Principle (Acceptance & Spiritual Growth), Beginnings, Direct Experience, Ending, Fear, Joy, Letting Go, New Year, Peace, Presence, Regret
  • One: It may be the hardest thing we will ever do, Many: Caught up in our self-righteousness, honing our pain. One: The one who offended may not deserve forgiveness Many: And we are not obliged to offer it. One: Why, then, should we forgive? Many: Because we have all caused pain....
    Responsive Reading | By Amanda Udis-Kessler | July 3, 2017 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: 1st Principle (Worth & Dignity), 3rd Principle (Acceptance & Spiritual Growth), 4th Principle (Truth & Meaning), Direct Experience, Fire Communion, Forgiveness, Growth, Healing, Humanism, Letting Go, Limitations, New Year, Spiritual Practice, Transformation, Yom Kippur
  • The new year calls us forward, filled with mystery. As we turn toward that new year, we take a final glimpse of the past year, and reckon with all that it held for us. There are baskets moving through the aisles with pens and something called flash paper. It’s specially treated paper that...
    Ritual | By Erika Hewitt | December 15, 2016 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: 4th Principle (Truth & Meaning), Beginnings, Direct Experience, Ending, Fire Communion, Letting Go, New Year, Self-Care, Self-Respect, Spiritual Practice, Transformation, Unitarian Universalism, Vision
  • When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to...
    Affirmation | By Howard Thurman | December 6, 2016 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: Advent, Christmas Eve / Christmas, Community, Hope, Justice, New Year, Peace, Purpose, Redemption, Service, Twelfth Night / Epiphany, Work
  • Spirit of Life and Love, known by many names and yet fully known by none, we give thanks for this time and this place of renewal. We give thanks for the ability to begin again: after the disaster, after the tragedy, after the loss, after meeting the challenge set before us....
    Prayer | By Lyn Cox | September 22, 2016 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: 1st Principle (Worth & Dignity), 3rd Principle (Acceptance & Spiritual Growth), Courage, Disaster or Crisis, Diversity, Gratitude, Homecoming / Ingathering, Hospitality, Journey, New Year, Reconciliation, Rosh Hashanah, Transformation, Unitarian Universalism, Yom Kippur
  • What makes us human beings so uniquely wonderful in this puzzling universe is that we never give up on love. Against all odds, with no guarantee of being loved in return, out of the hate and hurt so often handed us, in the face of the sad suffering history has let us see, we go on loving....
    Quote | By David Richo | May 19, 2016 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: 1st Principle (Worth & Dignity), 3rd Principle (Acceptance & Spiritual Growth), Beginnings, Connections, Courage, Direct Experience, Hope, Love, Meaning, New Child, New Year, Relationships, Respect, Self-Respect, Valentine's Day, Wonder
  • This ritual was designed as part of a worship service/fire communion. Please see that holiday description for more details. Leader: Today’s service is about letting go, metaphoric cleansing and quenching of thirst, setting of intentions, self-anointing, healing, new beginnings and possibilities.
    Ritual | By Lois Van Leer | May 3, 2016 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: Beginnings, Earth-Centered, Fire Communion, Hope, Letting Go, New Year, Purpose, Spiritual Practice, Wisdom
  • Having let go, Set our intentions, Named our curiosity, Committed our energies, And given ourselves over to lives of balance, purpose and meaning, Let us begin again In love...
    Closing | By Lois Van Leer | May 3, 2016 | From WorshipWeb
    Tagged as: Beginnings, Ending, Hope, Journey, Letting Go, Love, New Year