Five New Year’s Traditions to Try for a Happy, Healthy Start

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

I love New Year’s.

It wasn’t always that way. I remember growing up, when people would ask me what my favorite holiday was. “Uhh…Christmas?” was usually my answer (after which I would think about how unoriginal I was).

For New Year’s when me and my siblings were little, we would stay up late with my parents watching movies, then make a lot of noise when midnight hit. (Really. A lot of noise.) I remember an elementary school assignment about New Year’s resolutions, and feeling like I had been missing out because I had never heard of such a thing before.

As I got older, my older sisters starting going out with friends for the holiday. Me, being painfully shy (well, and starting to experience depression, too), never had friends to go out with. As they also got older, my parents started opting for going to bed on New Year’s, and the whole thing started becoming a non-event for me.

After three years of college, I spent a year and a half as a Mormon missionary in Korea. During that time, I wasn’t allowed to stay up until midnight with the Church’s incredibly strict code of conduct for its missionaries. Still, this is when I started to love the holiday. I found out Koreans have a tradition of, instead of staying up, waking up early on New Year’s Day and taking a winter hike to see the first sunrise of the year. I loved this idea, and loved the cold, fresh, beautiful hikes.

My love for the holiday has increased since then. When I met my now-husband, I finally had someone to go out and have fun with on the holiday. In fact, it was our third New Year’s together, at midnight, that he proposed to me. Last New Year’s, driving home and wanted something to listen to, I stumbled on an interview with Ruth Soukup with Elite Blog Academy, without which I would never have started this blog.

Most of all, though, I have come to love the holiday because of the fresh start it gives. I love being able to look ahead at the coming year and think of all the wonderful things that are waiting, about how much better I’ll be. Just as much, I love being able to bid good riddance to the not-so-good things that happened during the year that is ending.

With that thought, I wanted to share six of the New Year’s traditions I’ve gathered over the years. I hope they will help you feel excitement and optimism about this wonderful new start.

1. Burn the old year

New Year’s is about looking backward as well as forward. A long time ago, I heard that the month of January was named for the Roman god Janus—a god with two faces, one to look forward, and one to look behind, just like we do with a new beginning. Though I see Wikipedia says the name might actually come from the single-faced god Juno, I prefer the former story for its powerful symbolism.


Though the New Year’s holiday is about looking forward to what’s coming, it’s also a good time to put the past behind you. And I know from experience that sometimes stuff happens that you really have to put behind you. One way to do it? Literally burn it.

I don’t remember where I first heard this idea, but it was incredibly satisfying when I tried it: Write down everything bad about the past year on paper, then take it somewhere else safe and contained, and put a match to it.

Let it all burn.

Watch it go up in smoke. Then move on.

2. Celebrate your wins

I tend to get anxious at the end of the day. It’s easy to focus on everything I didn’t get done, on everything negative about the day. One of the therapists I’ve worked with once suggested that, during these moments, I make a mental list of what went right.

This little exercise has made a huge difference over the years. And I think it applies to the new year, as well. The previous idea was a suggestion for dealing with what didn’t go right during the previous year; it can also mean so much to focus on what did go right. The things that did work. What you did accomplish. Taking some time to reflect (and maybe right down) the positives of the previous year is also a great way to move on from it.

This feels like a good moment to mention how being a stepmom went over the previous year. I went into becoming a stepmom with expectations for what it would be like, and for the relationship I would have with my stepdaughters. How could I not? It has been painful when those expectations haven’t happened. This year, I started figuring out the pattern, and started to take a step back. I’ve started to develop a philosophy of having low expectations—but then celebrating each positive activity and encounter.

When one of my stepdaughters and I have a meaningful conversation, when I genuinely have fun with them, when someone actually listens to my advice, when they want to eat something I’ve cooked, when we laugh—those moments feel really good. I try to scoop them up and admire how pretty they are and keep them in my pocket. I try to treasure and celebrate those moments when they happen. Without having expectations for them. Just enjoying them when they come.

I think this attitude can be helpful when looking back on things, too. Remember those happy moments. Enjoy how they feel. Treasure them. And remember the joy.

3. Take a hike

A hike with my parents on New Year's Day, 2011

I mentioned my time in Korea, and the delightful tradition of taking a hike bright and early on New Year’s Day. Like I’ve also mentioned, I find the new year so exciting. It’s exciting to look ahead of you, when everything is a possibility. You have a perfect, fresh, clean slate. A blank sheet of paper, just waiting to be filled. Those morning New Year’s hikes I’ve taken have been filled with sunshine and possibility. Especially if you’re not a night owl, I encourage you to try it. Bonus points for sitting down with a bowl of dduk gook soup (like the Koreans do) after.

4. Make some non­-smart goals

I’m sure at some point, someone told you how you’re supposed to make goals. SMART goals, they call them. Only if your goal is “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound” will you achieve your goal.

As a lover of the New Year’s holiday, boy, I’ve made a whole lot of new year’s resolutions. I’ve made charts where I can check them off, print-outs where I can remember exactly what they are, and month-by-month plans to make my year amazing.

Last year, I threw it all out the window. I was tired of the stupid SMART goals that I so often had lost my attention and enthusiasm for by spring. Instead, at the end of 2018, I sat down, thought about what I wanted to accomplish during the year—but focusing on the big picture. What’s important to me? What do I value? How do I want to change? What do I want to include more of? This resulted in six simple statements:

Be happy

Be healthy

Be consistent

Be creative

Work hard

Work smart

I assembled these six statements with a photo and made them the screen saver and wallpaper on my cell phone. They have stayed there the entire year—but more significant, I think, is how they shaped my year.