The old year is coming to a close, and it will soon be time to celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1. The first month of the year, January, bears the name of the Roman god Janus. Janus is depicted with two faces, one looking forward and the other backward. The face of Janus is a reminder of how we start a new year reflecting on the past and anticipating the future. The activities suggested below will prompt your group to share their thoughts on ringing the old year out and the new year in!

  • HISTORY: Learn about the history of the month of January and when it found a place on the calendar. Show clip art of the Roman god Janus and share facts about the keeper of gates and doors, beginnings and transitions. Talk about why Janus would be associated with the first month of the year. Share reflections on the past year. Ask: What did you learn this past year? What are you most grateful for this past year? What’s your favorite memory? Any big surprises? What did you get excited about? Any regrets?  (Add other questions as they come to mind.) Serve hot tea.
  • NEW YEAR’S EVE: Sing “Auld Lang Syne.” Share New Year’s traditions and customs, using some of these key words: fireworks, noise makers, confetti, champagne, Father Time, crystal ball, Times Square, Guy Lombardo, toasts, stroke of midnight, dancing, resolutions, good luck traditions/lucky foods, Rose Bowl Parade, football.
  • RESOLUTIONS: Write some resolutions for the upcoming year, using the following verbs: improve, make, get, spend, manage, be, devote, quit, reduce, volunteer. Make a list of expressions related to starting over: clean sweep, square one, new beginning, turn over a new leaf, start anew, start from scratch, out with the old, start with a clean slate, fresh start.
  • MUSIC: Listen to songs for looking back: “Down by the Old Mill Stream,” “Old Grey Mare,” “Memories,” “Remember,” “Those Were the Days,” “Sentimental Journey,” “When I Grow Too Old to Dream,” and “Will You Remember?” Enjoy songs for looking forward: “Tomorrow” (Annie), “There’s a New World Coming,” “Let’s Start the New Year Right” (Irving Berlin), and “You Are the New Day” (Kings Singers).
  • MOVIE: Enjoy the classic 1942 film Holiday Inn which features a New Year’s scene with Bing Crosby. Sip hot cocoa as you listen for the song “Let’s Start the New Year Right.” Ask your group how to start the New Year on a positive note.
  • SPIRITUAL: Learn what the Bible says about letting go of the past and focusing on the future using the life of the Apostle Paul (see Philippians 3:12-14).
  • MUSIC: Listen to the song “Times of Your Life” sung by Paul Anka in the mid-1970s. Ask participants what message they take away from the lyrics. Speculate on why the song was used in Kodak camera ads.
  • WORD GAME: Ask your group to make a list of palindromes – words that are spelled the same forward and backward (examples: noon, peep, bob, radar, civic, eye).
  • DISCUSSION: Read the following quote from the opening of A Tale of Two Cities, written by Charles Dickens in the late 1850s: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Ask: Is the quote relevant today? How?
  • POETRY: Read classic and contemporary poems related to the months of the year. (Examples: “The Months” by Sara Coleridge, “The Months” by Christina Rossetti,  or “The Months” by Linda Pastan)  Display props related to the months of the year and ask participants what they like about each month. Make a calendar for the upcoming year.
  • BIRTHDAYS: Invite group members to tell their birth dates. Ask: What are the different ways you have celebrated birthdays – in the past and now? How do you feel about aging? What are ways we can “get better with age”? Sing a song to illustrate each one. Examples: Live right – “Button Up Your Overcoat”; Eat right – “Tea for Two”; Pray – “Standing in the Need of Prayer”; Have a positive outlook – “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive” or “Put on a Happy Face.”
  • FASHION: Look at photos of winter fashions through the decades. Identify “classic” fashions (always in style)  vs. “fads” (popular for a short time).  Ask the ladies to name some classic winter fashions they have worn over the years (ex: cashmere sweater or fitted jacket) and to name a fad they enjoyed for a season. Invite some teens to model winter clothes that are currently in style.
  • SLANG: Read a list of some of the new words added to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in the last ten years (examples: tweet, ginormous, Sudoku, big-box, drama queen). Ask the group to guess the meaning of the words and say if they have ever used them in a conversation or heard them used by someone else.
  • ELVIS: Celebrate the birthday of singer Elvis Presley on January 8: Reminisce about listening to Elvis songs on the car radio in the 1950s and 1960s. Listen and sing along to his recordings such as “Love Me Tender,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Viva Las Vegas.”  Watch excerpts from his movies. Invite an Elvis impersonator to perform for your group.
  • SUPER BOWL: The first Super Bowl was played on January 15, 1967, at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Celebrate the event with your group by watching TV clips from the first game between the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Or, watch this year’s Super Bowl game together. Don’t forget to pass out pom-poms and foam footballs. Serve finger foods, such as chips and salsa, buffalo wings, and snack mixes. The finishing touch: a football-shaped cake for dessert. Encourage your group to share football jokes and to write an original cheer.


  1. Which U.S. president took office on January 20, 1981? Ronald Reagan
  2. Which popular sporting event first took place on January 15, 1967 in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum? Super Bowl (Green Bay Packers vs. Kansas City Chiefs)
  3. Betsy Ross was born in January 1752. What was she known for? Sewing the first American flag
  4. Which territory was admitted as the 49th state on January 3, 1959? Alaska
  5. Which musical, starring Carol Channing as Dolly Levi, opened on Broadway in January 1964? Hello, Dolly!
  6. When is Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrated? 3rd Monday in January
  7. The King of Rock ‘n Roll was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935. Who was he? Elvis Presley
  8. Which U.S. war ended on January 27, 1973? Vietnam
  9. Which U.S. president issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863? Abraham Lincoln
  10. The Today Show premiered on TV in January 1952. On which network did it appear? NBC


“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Looking Forward, Looking Back” was written by Sue Hansen. Copyright 2014 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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