I was curious as to why we celebrate the New Year in the middle of winter seemingly based on nothing in particular. In my mind the logical time to celebrate the New Year is on the Winter Solstice, since that is the day we welcome the new light, that the days stop getting shorter and start getting longer. It’s a bit problematic that the Northern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice (Dec 21) is opposite of the Southern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice (Jun 21). But I will leave that thought there for now.
I did a little research to find out more about the New Year and was quite surprised at what I found. In order to understand why we are celebrating the New Year on Jan 1, it is necessary to know why we are celebrating Christmas on Dec 25 as they are related to each other in the Western Christian world.
There are different theories of why Christmas is on Dec 25 since the true birthday of Jesus is unknown. Christians didn’t celebrate Christmas on Dec 25 until the year 336 when Emperor Constantine ruled. The Church in Rome chose Dec 25 so that Christ’s birth would replace the birthday of the sun. It was also believed that Dec 25 was exactly 9 months after Mar 25, the day of the Annunciation, when Mary was told that she would have a very special baby. (Coincidentally, Mar 25 is right after March 21, the Spring Equinox, and the day many pagans believe the new sun rose.) Here is a list of pagan winter celebrations that existed before Christmas:
Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Dec 25) - The Roman birth of the unconquered sun and the birthday of Mithras, the Iranian Zoroastrian Sun of Righteousness.
Brumalia (Dec 25) – A Greek winter holiday associated with Dionysus and wine. Bruma is Latin for Winter Solstice.
Saturnalia (Dec 17 – 23) - A Roman holiday that lasted 3-7 days. Saturn (Cronus, Father Time, in Greek) was the original creator of man.
Winter Solstice (between Dec 20 – 23) - A celebration of the sun’s return.
This time of the year is also popular for other celebrations including:
Hanukkah (dates vary based on the Jewish lunar calendar) - The Jewish Festival of Lights.
Makar Sankranti (Jan 14) - The Hindu Solstice, marks the transition of the sun into Makara rashi (Capricorn) on its celestial path.
Boar's Head Carol (Dec 26) - The Norse tradition of presenting a boar's head to royalty at Solstice.
St. Stephen’s Day or the Feast of St Stephen (Dec 26) – A Catholic celebration of the first Christian martyr. In the Eastern Church it is celebrated on Dec 27 (Julian) or Jan 9 (Gregorian).
Boxing Day (Dec 26) - A day on which the servants had a day off from their duties in England.
Kwanzaa (Dec 26) - A new week long celebration held in the US to honor universal African heritage and culture.
When Pope Gregory devised the new Gregorian calendar in the 1500’s, the Eastern Orthodox Church retained the Julian calendar, which meant they celebrate Christmas 13 days later. The Orthodox Christians celebrate Jan 6 as the date for Christ's birth and baptism. The Western Church celebrates Jan 6 as the Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi.
During Ancient and Middle Ages there were many different days that the New Year was celebrated on:
Roman Calendar – The New Year began on Mar 1. The ancient Roman calendar had only 10 months. Later January, February and Mercedonius were added to the end of the year. Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar with the New Year on Jan 1. Mar 1 was used in the Venice and Russia. Then Sep 1 was used in Russia from the 14th century until the adoption of the Julian calendar.
Annunciation Style – In many parts of Europe, the New Year began on Mar 25, which was the feast of the Annunciation.
Easter Style – In France, the New Year began on Easter Saturday or sometimes on Good Friday.
French Republican Calendar – The New Year began on the Autumn Equinox, Sep 21.
Christmas Style – In Germany, England, and Spain, the New Year began on Dec 25.
Eastern Orthodox (Old Calendarists) – The New Year began on Jan 14 on the Gregorian calendar (which is Jan 1 on the Julian calendar).
Circumcision Style - The New Year began on Jan 1, which is the feast of the circumcision that occurs on the 8th day after a male child’s birth (called “brit milah” in Judaism).
The Western Christian calendar is not the only calendar in existence. In fact, every major religious faith has a different calendar system. Some are based on the moon’s movement (lunar) and some are based on the sun’s movement (solar).
I began to wonder just how many New Year celebrations there are in a year. After all, the more there are, the more opportunities there are for re-affirming old resolutions or making new resolutions. Here is a list of 2014 New Year celebrations from various cultures:
Jan 1 Gregorian – Christian (Year 2014 AD or CE)
Jan 1 Japanese – Shinto Shogatsu / Gantan-sai
Jan 14 Julian – Eastern Orthodox New Year (aka The Old New Year)
Jan 16-19 Buddhist – Mahayana
Jan 31 Chinese – Lunar New Year (Year 4711, Wood Horse) / Confucian - Hsih Nien / Daoist - Suhl / Viet Namese - Têt Nguyen Dan / Tibetan - Losar
Mar 12 Aztec – Año Nuevo Mexicano / Año Nuevo Azteca / Yancuic Xīhuitl
Mar 14 Sikh – Nanakshahi Jantri (Year 546)
Mar 21 Persian - Zoroastrian Norouz / Baha'i - Naw Ruz/Nav Ruz “The New Day”
Mar 31 Hindu New Year (Year 2071)
Apr 14 Hindu – Oriya New Year / Solar New Year / Maha Vishuva Sankranti / Mesha Sankranti / Pana Sankranti
Apr 13-15 Thai - Songkran
Apr 19 Western Astrological New Year - Begins with Aries
May 15-18 Buddhist - Theravadin
Aug 1 Quechua - Andean New Year
Sep 24-26 Jewish - Rosh Hashanah “Head of the Year” (1st of Tishrey, 5775)
Oct 24-25 Islamic – Hijra (1st of Muharram, 1436 AH)
Oct 31 Pagan - Samhain
Dec 31 Scotland - Hogmanay
There certainly are plenty of opportunities to create New Year resolutions.
How to be Make a New Year’s Resolution
Popular New Year’s Resolutions
Or you may not want to create a resolution for the New Year. According to Tut (© Michael Dooley www.tut.com) there is an alternative to wiping the slate clean each year and starting from scratch. He offers the following suggestion:
1. Give thanks that life is just as it is because you are ready.
2. Define what you want in terms of the end result, not worrying about the “hows”.
3. Know that what you want is already yours in spirit.
4. Let the Universe show you the way via your impulses and instincts that appears you you take inspired action.