Okay, look, this whole New Year bidness? It’s bullshit. I mean, sure, we live in a culture that requires us to establish metrics for Time. But basically, I’m with Thomas Mann on this: Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. The objective differences between December 31, 2021 and January 1, 2022 are trifling.
Even if we agree that there are valid reasons to demarcate one year from another, the only reason January 1–a date right in the middle of the fucking winter–is considered the first day of a new year is because Julius Caesar yanked the old 10 month Roman calendar and imposed a new, improved 12 month one. He added a couple of months, clever boy, one of which was January–named for Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings and endings, the god of gates and doorways, the god of transitions. Caesar made the imperial decision that the first day of the new month would be the first day of the new Roman year. I’m not saying he deserved to be stabbed to death for that, but c’mon, what an arrogant prick.
Generally, folks living in the Roman Empire at that time (which was seriously huge, by the way) felt a new year began at some point around the Vernal Equinox. Which totally makes sense. It’s around the end of March, winter is over, the land begins to come alive again, leaves grow on trees, plants bloom, days are longer, everything is new. So when Caesar imposed this new calendar on the empire, common folks mostly ignored it. They continued to celebrate a seasonal new year rather than a calendar-based one.
Then three hundred years or so later, Christianity came along and sort of fucked things up. When the Roman emperor Constantine decided that Christianity was the Official Religion of Rome (which is a whole nother story), all his generals and high ranking officials had to become Christian if they wanted to advance their careers. That meant supporting the nascent Church, and supporting the Church meant adapting pagan holy days to Christian holy days AND marking them on the Roman calendar.
Still, hardly anybody celebrated January 1 as New Year’s Day. It was celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. You may be asking yourself how Romans decided that Jesus was circumcised on January 1, which is a reasonable thing to ask yourself. What happened was a Roman historian named Sextus Julius Africanus, after some serious consideration, decided Jesus was probably conceived around the Vernal Equinox. That’s why Christmas is mostly celebrated on December 25, nine months later. And according to Jewish law and tradition, eight days after a boy is born his parents hold a bris. What’s a bris? It’s a ceremony in which a mohel comes to the family’s home, snips the foreskin off the boy’s penis, then everybody has a nice meal. Eight days after December 25 is January 1.
Now, there’s a whole weird, uncomfortable history dealing with early Christianity and circumcision which isn’t worth going into (so much of history has been shaped by the relationship men have with their dicks). There’s a whole sub-genre of art devoted to Jesus getting snipped. The important thing, though, is that over time the Christian discomfort over the celebration of Jesus being separated from his Holy Foreskin morphed the event into a celebration of the New Year.
This is why folks are putting on pointy party hats and blowing horns and getting high school drunk tonight. Because Yahweh decided Abraham should be circumcised and Julius Caesar wanted a better calendar and a Roman historian made a wild guess about when Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit and Constantine decided to become a Christian and early Christians became awkward and uncertain about circumcision so instead of celebrating a bit of foreskin-snipping they fell back onto celebrating Caesar’s arbitrary decision to start a new year in the middle of the fucking winter.
It’s all bullshit. The sun rises, the sun sets, the earth orbits the Sun, tilts on its axis, we have seasons. And basically, that’s it. Some folks just need an excuse for a party.
The early Xians overlaid their holidays/holy days over the old Pagan ones – Jeezy Creezy’s B’day – Son ‘o God/Saturnalia and the rebirth of the Sun God. Easier to get those heathens to convert if it didn’t seem like a big deal. The Romans were pros at that.
I think in some earlier versions of the bible, it’s stated that Joshua Ben Joseph was born when the olive trees were in bloom (early May), but the wild, Pagan fertility rituals were just too much to mash up with the new religion. No one would have remembered JC when a wild romp was to be had in the woods with Cernunnos.
Anyway, Happy New Calendar, Greg. The Spiral Dance continues.
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It was sneaky clever of the early Christian church to attach their holy days to existing pagan holy days. It may have been parasitic, but it was a very effective way of supplanting the old beliefs.
And yes, I know Cernunnos was Celtic, but Roman Xians weren’t going to convince the population that Venus (a sexy woman!) was not superior to Bebe Jayzus. Not on a nice, warm Spring day when everyone was feeling randy. Now, THERE’S a party.
Thank you, Greg – for the early New Year laugh! Whatever the reason and subtleties of it, have a good start to the thing we’ll need about three good weeks to begin to write correctly. 🍷 Cheers!
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Crina, it pleases me that this pleased you.
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There’s so many New Years. The Chinese New Year in the spring. The Jewish New Year in the fall. The Pagan one at Halloween. But somehow, the only one that seems to matter is the one at January 1. I mean, we all have to be on the same page … but I agree, it’s all such silliness.
Partying is a business. I know, I used to be a professional partier.
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New Year’s Eve and St Patrick’s Day (in the US) are basically holidays for amateur drinkers — which is one of the reasons I avoid them.
As you say, it’s all just a fabricated nonsense idea to bring the plebs along with the rulers. I don’t like new year. I find it melancholy. As for New Year’s Eve parties, I’d rather not. Such a lot of fuss and drinking and noise focussed on the turning of a minute. I feel it’s endlessly disappointing. Right now people rushing around wishing happy new year on everyone, in the middle of a pandemic that we have little control over, and in Brexit Britain, just feels sadistic. But I like that it’s a national holiday. I’m all for the holidays.
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