New Year’s Day: The perfect day to think about Mary (and moms in general)



Painting by Carlo Maratta


January 1st — as anyone with a TV, calendar, or hangover knows — is New Year’s Day.  It also happens to be a big day in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church: the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

It has occurred to me that the timing of this celebration is absolutely brilliant.  Seriously, when it comes to honoring Mary as mother, there is no better time than the first day of the year. The real, historical background for the feast can be found here, for any interested parties.   But I personally think there are two major reasons why it makes sense to celebrate Mary on January 1st. They are not the historical reasons, true, but they are ones that I suspect every mom will understand.

Reason One: January 1st is one week after we celebrate the birth of Christ.  I don’t know about you other moms out there, but frankly, one week after giving birth, I was not at my best.  I was horrendously sleep-deprived, which led me to do bizarre things like take a shower with my wristwatch on (this was a novel experience for the watch, one that led to its tragically premature end.) My chest felt like it was on fire from the pain of constant nursing, the sort of pain that makes you curl your toes and grit your teeth in agony. Due to my throbbing C-section incisions, I could not even laugh without grimacing, and I had to execute a series of intricate gymnastic maneuvers to do something as simple as get out of bed.   Yes, I was basking in the glow of my sweet little babies, but my body felt like it had been taxed to the breaking point.  Throw in the inevitable post-birth hormonal fluctuations, and I was a royal mess.

Let’s just say that it would have been the perfect time for the world to honor me with a big celebration.  That would have cheered me up considerably.

So I love that we remember Mary one week after the day that we celebrate the birth of her son. She didn’t have to deal with water-logged wristwatches or C-section staples, but she had her own period of adjustment to this new little person in her life. Every mom does, after all. And it’s nice to have this solemnity to honor her and her motherhood, to celebrate the vocation that she embraced, with all of its unexpected joys and unanticipated challenges.

Reason Two: January 1st is a new year, and a new start.  It’s a lovely clean slate: past mistakes are forgotten and the future awaits, pregnant with promise, full of second chances. I think that all moms — Mary included –  really get the importance of giving second chances.  Frankly, we moms are pros at this.

To cite an example: one Sunday morning, your toddler zealously sweeps the coffee table clean of Annoying Things That Are Not Thomas the Tank Engine Toys. Unfortunately, one of those things happens to be a water glass, which breaks all over the floor.  The toddler instantly knows that he’s made a big mistake.  You, in your infinite mercy, do not flip out at him, and instead turn it into a teachable moment (after you’ve sequestered him safely in his room and spent fifteen minutes obsessively vacuuming the crash site, that is).  The repentant toddler is then free to return to his Thomas toys.  See?  Second chances. (And if you DID flip out and utter harsh words, the good news is that you, Mom, get a second chance, too.)

I’m betting that Mary had to give her own son a bunch of second chances. Yes, he was sinless, but even sinless kids have accidents that require mom to step back, breathe deeply, and learn to let it go. It’s just part of the experience of mothering. And thus far, I’ve only had to deal with minor mishaps, small-kid transgressions. As moms of older kids will tell me, the giving of second chances doesn’t slow down as the children grow up. It intensifies, in ways I can barely begin to comprehend.

But through this lifelong process of helping our kids learn from their mistakes – as through the sleepless nights and the aftermath of childbirth and everything else that makes up the experience of motherhood – we’ve got a rather amazing woman in our corner. If there’s one thing I keep learning about Mary, it’s that there is never any end to her relevance in my life. And I love being part of a faith tradition that honors this mother on the very first day of the year, a day when we ponder how profoundly she has shaped the past, and how much we can learn from her in the future.

A version of this post appeared on back in 2010.  (By the way, check out their brand-new design!)

2 responses to “New Year’s Day: The perfect day to think about Mary (and moms in general)