Happy New Year! It's that time again, the time for resolutions, exercise, and all sorts of fiscal stuff!
But why does the year begin in January? Do you ever ask yourself that question? No? I have, especially while trying to work off holiday feasts! To that end, starting anew after a month of reveling makes sense to me.
Not everyone celebrates the coming of the New Year in January, of course. The Chinese New Year, also know as the Spring Festival, will be January 27 through February 2. Yep, that's seven full days of New Year's cheer. It marks the beginning of Spring in China and is a very old observance. It will be the Year of the Rooster, by the way. Likewise, Iranians celebrate their New Year, Norooz, on the vernal or spring equinox, this year March 21. Beginning the year in springtime, a time of renewal in the natural world, seems reasonable to me.
It doesn't coincide with the beginning of a liturgical cycle, either. Catholics do have an important feast day January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. But it's not a new season in the church; it's still Christmas. Don't take down that tree or pack away the nativity set just yet! Some Orthodox Christians, in accordance with the Julian calendar, will observe Christmas, New Year's, and Ephipany later this month, respectively January 7, 14, and 19. In the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah happened to end on New Year's Day this year, but it did not mark the beginning of the Jewish New Year. That would be Rosh Hashanah, which falls September 20.
It's not the beginning of anything astronomically, meteoroligically, or religiously. Whose calendar are we following, anyway?
The ancient Roman's, of course!
In 45 B.C., Julius Caesar institued his new and improved calendar, the Julian calendar, and decided that the month of Janus, Roman god of Doors and Gateways, was an appropriate time to begin the new year. Janus was always depicted with two faces, one to the past and the other to the future. His month became the gateway to the New Year for the Romans.
Not everyone cared about the Romans or their calendar, far from it. Once that famed empire fell and Christianity became more widespread, New Year's Day was sort of fiddled around with, especially in Europe. Some countries tried observing it in spring, around Easter, but since the vernal equinox changes from year to year and the Julian calendar wasn't keeping up, it got complicated. It took several centuries and Pope Gregory XIII's calendar, the Gregorian calendar (1582), with its leap years and less room for error, to bring more people around. The pope wasn't particularly worried about New Year's Day; he was more concerned with Easter. Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar first, Protestant countries eventually did so as a matter of convenience, and until this day it is not universal.
So now we know. We celebrate the beginning of the year in January because of some random Roman god and Julius Caesar's whimsy, sort of by default, really. No problem! I don't think that the whys and wherefore make much difference. Insomuch as it is up to us, January and the months that follow will be what we make them. Let's make them great! Here's to January, to 2017, and to you!
Image of Janus, public domain, from Alexander Stuart Murray's Manual of Mythology, 1873, Oxford University
Surely, the past, present, and future connect in this miraculous state we call life. In this light, history and all human experience are ever-present. Wouldn't it be nice, then, if we could enjoy each other, if we could appreciate and celebrate our differences? Let us love! Let us have fun. Let us toast each other and wish each other well. Now, in our awareness, is the time to be happy, to do our best, to live fully to our purest, highest standards.