Spending New Year’s Eve at home with the kids? Me too. I am so grateful to have made it through 2015 that I am preparing our family to have a meaningful, joyous, and Jewish New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. As we prepare to ring in 2016, here are 16 ways to enhance the New Year with your family.
1. As the saying goes, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.” That works for New Year’s Eve too! We like to watch the fireworks online from Sydney, Australia. Confetti and noise makers are optional (but we will certainly use them to enjoy the party as much as possible).
2. Have a dance party in your living room! Make this a Jewish experience by learning an Israeli dance together. You can watch and learn some easy Israeli dances online.
3. Have a conversation about the four Jewish new years. Rosh Hashanah is only one; there’s also the 15th of Shevat (Tu Bishvat), which is the birthday of trees in Israel, and the 1st of Nisan, which marks the beginning of our redemption from Egypt, and the 1st of Elul, which marks the time for tithing cattle in ancient times. Talk about what it feels like to be Jewish in a secular world, to experience Jewish holidays as well as secular holidays.
4. Speaking of Tu Bishvat, New Year’s Day is a perfect day for a family field trip to the local garden center to purchase soil, pots, and parsley seeds. Tu Bishvat begins sundown of January 24, and it’s a beautiful custom to plant parsley seeds in celebration of trees and in preparation for Passover. Isn’t it lovely how Jews are always looking forward to the next holiday?
5. Another great family activity on New Year’s Eve or Day is to visit a nursing home. Many of us already spend Christmas day performing mitzvot. Let’s expand that to New Year’s as well. Those who live in nursing homes are often lonely, especially around the holidays. If your children are older, consider volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Starting the year in such a positive way by performing a mitzvah will hopefully lead to a year of many mitzvot, as our rabbis taught, “mitzvah goreret mitzvah,” the performance of one good deed will lead to the performance of more.
6. Start the New Year on the right foot with a conversation about resolutions. So often, New Year’s resolutions are too lofty or ambitious. What are some concrete things we can do as a family to bring more meaning into our lives? To increase our happiness? To be more healthy? Talk about how you can be accountable to each other to succeed.
7. Have that discussion about resolutions, and then agree on one thing that you will start doing right away. You’ll feel much better about trying to keep your resolution if you go to sleep on January 1st knowing you’ve already started. Jewish tradition speaks about resolutions in a different way when we talk about teshuva, or repentance, on Rosh Hashanah, referring to being in the same situation and making better choices. As we begin 2016, try applying some Jewish intention to your resolutions, making them more about making better choices in what you already do.
8. With the strange weather we have been experiencing in the last few months of 2015, with record highs and other oddities, try exploring the records that have been set throughout the country. Then share some stories from your youth or recent times about weather (I have heard stories of the New England blizzard of ’78 and I can share my own of Snoctober 2011). Telling stories helps us remember the past, and may open up a whole new conversation with your children about your life before they existed.
9. An added bonus to #8–how does our Jewish liturgy change as the seasons change? If you are a family that prays regularly (or even if you’re not!), look up the reasons behind adding “mashiv haruach u’moreed hagashem,”or “Who causes wind to blow and rain to fall,” into the weekday Amidah from Shemini Atzeret through Passover. (There are other liturgical changes, so have fun exploring!) You’ll see that the changes are connected to the weather in Israel–a fantastic way to think about Israel every day.
10. And while we’re thinking about Israel, start the New Year by finding an Israeli pen pal for your family. There are many websites that offer matching. Maybe you’ll make new friends for your next family trip to Israel!
11. If you enjoy writing letters, take a few moments to write to those serving our country in the armed forces. You’ll find a ton of sites to help direct your mail, and it’s a great way to start the New Year appreciating our freedom and expressing gratitude for all that we have.
12. I plan to reach out to some of our friends to see which other parents have run out of ideas of fun things to do with our kids, and hopefully we can arrange some new play dates. The toys are always more exciting in someone else’s play room!
13. Friday in our home is always a day of cooking for Shabbat, though usually it is without the children at home. This New Year’s Day, we will find some recipes we can cook together as a family. The first Shabbat of the New Year will be even sweeter when everyone has helped prepare for it.
14. Sweetness reminds us that Rosh Hashanah is the time of apples and honey, as we wish everyone a sweet New Year. As we begin 2016, we wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year, so let’s take some time to make some new New Year’s food traditions. What foods will help to make us happy and healthy?
15. As someone who is thrilled to say “goodbye” to 2015, having endured the ordeals of cancer this past summer, I will be spending most of New Year’s Eve and Day snuggling my family and thanking God for my husband, my children, and all of my blessings. We talk about giving extra hugs when we hear of tragedies in the world; I plan to make a point of just giving those extra hugs all the time, just because.
16. And finally, as we enter 2016, celebrate New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day by saying the Hebrew blessing, “Shehecheyanu,” grateful to God that we have been granted life and enabled to reach yet another momentous occasion.
Here’s to a very happy and healthy 2016, and a meaningful, joyous, and Jewish New Year’s Eve!