Welcome to my second article of 2018 dear readers, & further to my thoughts from last week, I wanted to reflect on what many of will in fact be doing for the first weeks of this new year. You could read about predictions in science, business & culture. Watch cricket or tennis on television, given the rain as I type, watch a movie or perhaps just chill out @ the beach. Or you could be in fact working.
What you will probably not have done on this New Years Day is wonder why we have a New Years Day.
As the rain quietly & beautifully falls on my extremely dry lawn I am happily reflecting on why does January 1st begin the New Year here in New Zealand? (It doesn't in many cultures around the world). Why is there such a thing as New Year? And why does the concept of New Year matter to us beyond today?
So I went searching for the history of where New Year’s Day on January 1st began! If we lived without a calendar nothing about today would tell you that it is any different from yesterday or tomorrow. We would know the seasons have changed of course. It is definitely summer here & winter in most parts of England.
Over time one would notice there are four repeating seasons & cyclical changes with the moon & the stars. But you would probably not seek to identify one day as beginning the process all over again. Where then did we get the idea for a “New Years day”?
According to History.com, 1 the earliest recorded festivals honouring a new year date back four millennia to the Babylonians. For them the first new moon following the vernal equinox (late March on our calendar) began the New Year. Egyptians began their new year with the annual flooding of the Nile. The first day of the Chinese New Year occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice.
It sort of makes sense then to begin the year with such annual meteorological markers. However, January 1 is inauspicious in nature. Why, then, does it begin our new year?
In 46 BC, Julius Caesar implemented a new calendar beginning with January 1 (the month dedicated to Janus, the Roman god of beginnings). Medieval Christian leaders tried to relocate the New Year to days with greater religious significance such as Christmas or March 25. However, in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII re-established January 1 as New Year's Day.
So, many cultures have been celebrating a "new year" for at least four millennia. But why?
Perhaps the Jewish tradition is relevant here? Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, 2 celebrated each year in September. This is considered the day God created Adam & Eve, thus the "birthday of the universe." The Jewish people celebrate the day with candles, festive meals, the sounding of the ram's horn, & prayers.
On the first afternoon of Rosh Hashanah (unless it is a Sabbath, in which case Tashlich is observed on the next day), Jews go to a body of water (ocean, river, pond, etc.). They ceremonially cast their sins into the water. 3
New Years day then is far more significant in many other cultures, 4 than an annual day to change our calendars & watch cricket or tennis, or whatever everyone does.
I do not know how you are wired my friend, but at least for me, my mind has already begun to shift to 2018. I actually enjoy thinking about the coming year. It is a chance to reflect on what has been in the past year & to dream about what could be in the coming year.
I don’t know about you, but I have a kind of love-hate relationship with New Year’s.
On the upside, it feels like a fresh start. There is an entire year ahead of us & at this point, it is a clean slate. Certainly there will be circumstances I cannot control, but for the most part, I get to choose how I will live the 365 days of 2018 deposited into my account. On the downside, I am frustrated how many New Years have begun with the same resolutions & goals being discussed by many. My good year round intentions & determination have mostly been enough to help me reach my goals & make changes in my life.
A century ago, Louisa Fletcher spoke for us all:
I wish that there were some wonderful place
In the Land of Beginning Again.
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
and never put on again.
There is, my friends, there is.
Thank you for taking the time to be with me once again & for those I missed last week, my best wishes for 2018. I hope my thoughts may encourage you also. I look forward to sharing with you all next week; this is Kenn Butler in Paradise, Nelson, with my best wishes & too you all, a splendid 2018.
3 Micah 7:19
4 Thanks to Dr Jim Dennison for inspiration this week. Dr. Denison writes a daily column available at www.denisonforum.org/subscribe. His free column is distributed to 114,061 subscribers in 203 countries.