Is New Year’s Just an Excuse for a Party?
Here’s the key point: New Year’s Day is an arbitrary date. Someone had to choose it, and make it stick. Now, January 1 is our tradition, and it’s hard to think of anything else. But it wasn’t always so.
When you think about it, any first day of any month could start the New Year. In fact, your average corporate accountant might be more interested in the fiscal year that starts July 1 (or whatever). If it was just an excuse for a party, we kind of like March 1 because by that drab time of year we could really use something perky.
There’s evidence that people have been celebrating the New Year for thousands of years, probably tied to the seasons. The solar equinox and solstice events were known by ancient people, and they knew that they signaled the changes in the rotation of times for planting, cultivating and harvesting.
But why January 1? The typical account is that Julius Caesar chose the day in 46 BC because the month was named after Janus, the god of gates, doors and beginnings. Janus was believed to have two faces, one looking forward and one looking back. Apparently, Caesar thought this two-faced god was a good symbol for starting over, with one eye on the past.
That reasoning wasn’t persuasive to medieval Christians They celebrated New Years on March 25, Annunciation Day, the day that commemorated the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she was pregnant with Jesus. Finally, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII returned the celebration to January 1 as part of his revision of the calendar – the Gregorian calendar system we still use. The purpose of the Gregorian reform was to have a calendar that was aligned with actual events such as the annual solstice and equinox.
Today, the world runs on the Gregorian calendar and most people acknowledge January 1 as New Year Day. Yet there are still active cultural traditions that choose a different day as New Year. The Chinese New Year is the best known to Americans, and it is held on the 1st day of the lunar calendar, usually sometime between January 20 and February 20, and it is marked by huge fireworks and parties. You need to brush up on your lunar calendar skills to keep track of this one.
So, if you really need an excuse for a party, you can celebrate Ethiopian New Year, Cambodian New Year, the lunar new year, and even on January 13 if you want to follow the old Julian calendar.
Whichever date(s) you choose, we wish you all a prosperous and happy New Year!
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