top of page

New Year's Rituals and Intentions for 2021

Whether you're down with New Year's resolutions or not, reflecting on what we want to leave behind in 2020 and what we want to carry forward into 2021 is a great way to ring in the New Year. Here's why we celebrate New Year's by setting intentions and a few alternative options for our quarantine-style NYE.

© Marianne Purdie - Getty Images Here are some ways that you can set positive intentions for 2021 and ring in the new year with mindful rituals.Time to set some intentions for a better new year.

The backstory of New Years resolutions

Just because 2020 was a challenging year doesn't mean that 2021 will continue in the same vein. Humans have celebrated the end of the year since the days of the Babylonians more than 4,000 years ago. According to, the ancient Babylonians celebrated the new year in March when they planted crops. During the twelve-day celebration, they set intentions and made promises so that their gods would shower them with good harvests, health, and wealth in the next year.

However, we have Julius Ceasar to thank for making January the first month of the year, around 46 B.C. — and for our proclivity for looking back on the last 365-days of life. January was named after the Roman god Janus, whose spirit took up residence in doorways and arches. Janus symbolically looked forward and backward into the future and into the past. Typically Romans would offer sacrifices to Janus and make promises of good behavior to ensure good luck for the coming year.

© Gary Hershorn - Getty Images People celebrating New Year’s last year in New York City.

Given its history, it's no wonder that we consider New Year's a big deal in the modern era. Setting resolutions (and breaking them within the first three weeks of the year) is almost a rite of passage these days. The most popular resolutions typically center around health and wellness, as well as self-improvement. According to Statista, the most common resolution for 2020 was to better manage finances, eat healthier, and get more active. It's estimated that roughly 45% of Americans make New Year's resolutions. Of those, only 8% succeed — and it turns out that the fateful date when all those promises go to naught, is January 19.

Why rituals and intentions work

Beyond just proclaiming our latest (and sometimes unachievable) goals on social media at the end of the year each year (along with sharing our Spotify Year in Review…), there's some proof that setting intentions and following New Years rituals can actually help us become better, stronger, more financially stable people.

Rituals can be big or small, simple or ornate, depending on our own preferences and practices. Typically some kind of physical ceremony is done for a ritual. It can have religious significance or not, and there's a body of research that shows that rituals, despite their sometimes odd or offbeat reputation, can and do have a real effect on how we behave and manage our lives, according to a 2013 story in Scientific American. That's mainly because rituals can affect your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, impacting your life.

When it comes to intentions, it's important to note that they are distinctly different from resolutions. While it may seem like splitting hairs, resolutions tend to focus on the goal or outcome and are generally externally oriented (how we look, how much we weigh, for example). Intentions tend to place attention on the journey and are typically focused on internal factors (how we feel about our looks and how we feel physically). As Miriam-Webster defines it, intentions can include plans or set types of behavior. Resolutions tend to be more rooted in fear, while intentions tend to motivate us more deeply since they directly address our behavior, which is often at the root of our struggles.

Layer on the significance of a new year, and you have perfect circumstances for setting intentions and performing rituals. Just like our birthdays or anniversaries give us a set time to look back and mark time, the advent of January 1 does the same. Without markers for the passage of time, days, weeks, and months blur into one. Soon enough, years have flown by. Noticing the passage of time grounds us in the present and forces us to recognize what has changed both in ourselves and our environments. In truth, the practice of marking the passage of time is a very powerful way to remind us all to be present.

Finding your rituals and setting your intentions for the new year

Whether you decide to partake in a New Year's ritual or decide that setting intentions is better for you, it pays to start with some self-inquiry. Without knowing what you want deep down in your heart, you won't be able to set the right intention or find the right ritual.

In years past, we may have assembled at some lavish ball, or made extraordinary dinners with friends. Thanks to Covid-19, those plans are going to have to be scrapped this year. While that makes things a bit different, here are some ways to mark the turning of the year that don't require a gala outfit or a gluttonous meal and drink.

Attend an online mindfulness retreat

© Russell Monk - Getty Images gettyimages-586656565

Since we'll all be sheltering at home this New Year, and 2020 has truly been the year of self-reflection (hi, we can't see our friends or family), why not round it out with a mindfulness retreat online. Many meditation studios and yoga studios are offering online retreats this season that can help you dig deeper into what you truly want for both yourself and the world in 2021. You can check out retreats like this one by Insight LA or this one by The Den, both of which span over several days around the new year. If you want to opt for something with a little less financial or time commitment, use platforms like Glo, Headspace, or Calm to curate your own mindfulness retreat for New Year's Eve. There are plenty of great meditation and mindfulness selections on any of the platforms you can mix and match to create your own retreat.

Try a sound bath in the comfort of your own home

© JulyProkopiv - Getty Images gettyimages-1146310879

A sound bath is an event where a person plays various instruments to induce a deep and meditative state. They're often popular at yoga studios and meditation centers around the country, and most of them have gone online for 2020. If you've ever attended a sound bath in real life, you probably know how annoying the constant small ticks of other people can be: someone's coughing disrupts your flow, another person's need to use the bathroom midway through disturbs your focus, you can't get your various props and pillows into a comfortable position,(etc.). That's why taking one online, in the comfort of your own home, can be totally life-changing. Since Covid has shut many physical studios (in some cases permanently), many of the well-known and respected sound bath practitioners have talent their talents online, offering binaural sound baths.

Plugin some headphones and tune in, to tune out, and check out practitioners like Nate Martinez (who used to be at MNDFL in NYC before they shut their doors) who does sound baths twice a week online to get a taste of what you might be in for.

Do a tarot card reading

© LabyRinthos Golden Thread Tarot Deck

Since New Year's Eve is about looking both forward and back, it can be worthwhile to get your tarot cards read, or do a reading yourself, if you choose. There are plenty of decks that you can purchase online, and many come with instructions on how to use them. If you're looking for something that is custom made, try Etsy. Or, if you want something with both a digital and physical presence, try something like Golden Thread Tarot, which offers both an app that teaches you to use the cards and a real deck.

Celebrate the winter solstice instead

© Kristina Strasunske - Getty Images gettyimages-1252604593

The Winter Solstice falls on December 21, and it's a perfect time to start thinking about setting intentions and preparing for the new year. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. It's often celebrated as the start of a new solar year. If you're looking for a way to celebrate the winter solstice, check out something like this retreat from the world-renown Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.

While there are plenty of virtual options to ring in the new year, whether you choose to spend time with friends or family in the virtual space (hi, Zoom), make up a fancy meal for your family and get dressed up, or just watch the virtual ball fall in NYC (yes, the New Years Eve celebration has gone totally virtual this year) it's also vitally important to find a way to re-center, re-focus and send 2020 on its way. Finding the right ritual for you and setting intentions to carry you through whatever 2021 brings can be the key to finding future happiness.


By Abigail Bassett

Abigail Bassett is an Emmy-winning journalist, writer and producer who covers wellness, tech, business, cars, travel, art and food. Abigail spent more than 10 years as a senior producer at CNN. She’s currently a freelance writer and yoga teacher in Los Angeles. You can find her on Twitter at @abigailbassett.


bottom of page