WE know the meaning behind our holidays. Valentine’s Day celebrates love, St George’s Day celebrates England’s patron saint and Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. However, what is New Year about?
We know it literally is the start of the next month, the beginning of the next year and many of us end up drinking too much and singing Auld Lang Syne even when we have no idea what the words mean!
Many of us make resolutions each January, usually involving trying to make ourselves healthier, fitter, more financially secure and more content with our lives.
People sign up to dating agencies and gyms report a spike in memberships – of course as a gym user myself I know many of them give up by February.
I think New Year is important because it gives us a moment to pause. To look back on the year just gone, to reflect on the highs and the lows, and then to look forward to the year ahead.
It is interesting when we think of New Year resolutions as most of them are based on values. To become more healthy, to be more loving, to be more tolerant, to be more frugal, to spend more time with those we love, to enjoy life more. Values are important as they undergird our decisions and they speak something of what makes us tick.
As we look backwards as a nation, we look back on a year where we discovered more than one million food parcels were given out by food banks and a Parliamentary report told us that “hunger stalks our land”.
We look back on the Scottish referendum and see that in rejecting independence the Scottish people made a powerful statement about democracy.
We look back on the wonderful Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and here in Yorkshire we remember how we showed the world just what a wonderful place we live in when the Tour de France sped through the county.
So looking forward what do I hope for Britain in 2015?
Let me suggest three values that I hope we will see more of in the year ahead.
First, I hope we will be a fairer country. Five million people earn below the Living Wage and life is a permanent struggle. I hope 2015 will see more companies follow the example of the charity I lead and become Living Wage employers, enabling people to earn their way out of poverty. I hope we will see the bedroom tax scrapped, and the benefits system become fairer and more just.
I hope we will become a country where no one needs a food bank to feed their children. I love this country and I know that Britain is a fundamentally decent and compassionate nation. As we approach the General Election in May, arguably the most unpredictable election in a generation, I hope each of us will engage with that election, and cast our vote for a more fair, more just and more compassionate society.
Second, I hope we will become a more generous country. The Scottish comedian Billy Connolly said once that to say we have compassion fatigue is to say we have love fatigue. I lead a charity that helps homeless people, and one of the most awful things homelessness does is that it makes you feel less human than everyone else. For someone sitting on a street begging or trying to sell The Big Issue feeling that people are ignoring you perpetuates that sense of loneliness and isolation. If each of us took a moment to say hello to the homeless people we see and buy their magazine, it would make a huge difference.
Meanwhile, statistics tell us that five million elderly people have only their television for company. What if we took time to look in on our elderly neighbours? Brought them some flowers or baked a cake? How about deciding to set up a direct debit to support a charity that does good work? As a charity CEO, I am sure I can suggest some ideas!
Thirdly I hope we become a more involved country. Margaret Thatcher is reported to have said there is no such thing as society. I couldn’t disagree more. We are connected to each other. As the poet John Donne put it, none of us is an island.
The debate on immigration, the debates on social security and our future in the European Union, all these questions seem to suggest many people see a “them and us” in our society and political discourse. What if in 2015 each of us took steps to be more involved in our community, to join a club and meet new people, to volunteer in a youth club or local charity, to join a church, or to take up a new hobby?
The Irish novelist Brian Moore says lies of silence are what we commit when we don’t speak up. What about writing a letter to the local paper when we see a politician say something that we disagree with, or what about standing for election yourself? In short, I hope that we become a more connected, inclusive and tolerant country.
I challenge you before New Year’s Eve to take a few moments and look backwards and forwards and work out what your own hopes are for 2015, both for you and your family and for our nation.
And finally, New Year’s Eve is a time to dream dreams, as the Spice Girls would say, to dream for what you want, what you really really want, so… I hope Tottenham Hotspur win the Premier League and the United Kingdom wins the Eurovision Song Contest!
I wish you and those you love a truly blessed and happy new year. May your hopes and dreams be fulfilled for the year ahead.
• Mark Russell is chief executive of the Sheffield-based Church Army. He is writing in a personal capacity and can be followed on Twitter via @markrusselluk