If you’re reading this after midnight—HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Since I’ll be traveling the last two weeks of December, I prepared this blog in advance. If I manage to reply on New Year’s Day, then you know I made it home safely! I’m hoping the rest of the wenches will drop in for a mini-New Year’s Eve celebration and keep everyone entertained until I get home. Or better yet, that all our readers are out having a wonderful time preparing to welcome in 2008.
Does everyone realize that January 1 as the start of the new year is an arbitrary date based on nothing except Julius Caesar’s impatience with the Roman senate’s political tendency to change the calendar to keep their seats? The Babylonians 4000 years earlier were smart enough to start their year with the first visible crescent moon of the spring equinox, so they couldn’t misplace their dates. Don’t know if that says something about the dangers of lead poisoning in Roman times or the overall decline of human intelligence which seems to continue even 2000 years later, when half civilization feared the millennium.
Anyway, the Babylonian festivities were probably the original pagan ceremony on which our celebrations are based today. Theirs continued for eleven days afterward. We seem to be spreading ours eleven days before, but then, we start our new year in winter, and that’s just all wrong. (Or summer, for the bottom half of the world, and that’s even worse!)
The modern day calendar—the Julian calendar—began with Julius Caesar in 46 BC when the almighty emperor let the old year drag on for 445 days so he could straighten out the mess his earlier cronies had made. At least he had the sense to synchronize it with the sun so they didn’t wander too far astray. And he named January after the two-faced Roman god of doors and gates, Janus. (Gee, and I wonder who he named the hottest month of the year after?) He celebrated his first Julian new year by killing revolutionary Jews in Galilee. The rest of pagan Rome celebrated with drunken orgies. My, how things change over the centuries.
Druidic pagans adhered to the sun calendar and continued to celebrate their new year by exchanging
gifts. So of course, the Catholic Church did its best to yank the calendar back to their way of thinking and assigned March 25 as the new year to commemorate the anuciation of Jesus—our Easter–and condemned anyone who followed the pagan celebrations with gift exchanges or “superfluous” drinking. Looks to me like we could spend half of winter celebrating the various holidays, not a half bad idea when trapped inside by ice and snow!
Anyway, by the early medieval era, the pagan holidays were gradually usurped by the church, and Christian Europe called March 25 the start of their year. And then along came William the Conqueror…
Good old William was crowned King of England on December 25, 1066, and he wanted the calendar adjusted so his coronation fell on the day celebrated as Jesus’ birthday. So he decreed that the commemoration of Jesus’ circumcision, January 1, Julian time, would be the start of the new year. Again. I’m amazed some of these fearless leaders didn’t declare the sun revolved around them.
Of course, men die and the church doesn’t, so the new year reverted to church custom on March 25 in later decades—until Pope Gregory in 1582 decided the Romans had got their calculations wrong and every century was losing a day. Once again, the calendar was advanced, this time by ten days in October of 1582, and a system of leap years was instituted to prevent the problem from arising again. Being the scientific-minded fellow he was, the pope apparently also believed the Romans had a good thing going using January 1 as the new year and the circumcision of Jesus as a great reason to persecute Jews. Tradition!
Of course, as we all know, England had a bit of a problem with the Catholic church about this time, and they declined the pope’s generous offer of a new calendar and old traditions. England continued using the Julian calendar—until nearly two hundred years later with the Calendar Act of 1751. On September 2, 1752, all of England went to sleep in one calendar and woke up on the European/Gregorian calendar day of September 13th. Greece and Russia tarried a little longer, until the early twentieth century, as a matter of fact, before adopting the calendar the rest of Europe had been using for a few centuries.
Open-minded Leo that I am, I’m willing to celebrate the new year of all calendars, in any century, with any adjustment we’d like to make. I say let’s celebrate from now until Easter!
Oh, and those ancient Babylonians? They started the new year resolution thing, although their
resolutions leaned more toward the “I resolve to give Capurnicus back his plow sometime this year” type of resolution. I like that far better than “I resolve to lose ten pounds this year.” So maybe my new year’s resolution will be: I resolve to give back those books I borrowed from Mary Jo. Or if I’m really daring: I resolve to turn in that book I’ve been contracted to write.
Hmm, those resolutions still require work on my part. Anyone got any better ideas?