Why is it New Year?

The New Year starts – now.

This might seem like a superfluous question, after all it’s January 1st, but what I mean is, why do we celebrate New Year now, at this time of year?

I was having one of my ‘why‘ moments earlier today and it occurred to me that I don’t really understand our western New Year. Consider; if we didn’t have a way of tracking the days through the year, and you came up with the idea of a calendar, why would you start it now? It’s not as if this time of year is celebrating anything significant; it’s not an equinox, or a solstice or any other astronomical/astrologically significant event. It’s not the cusp of a zodiacal sign or the celebration of a solar return.

Our present Gregorian calendar is a Christian one so why doesn’t it start on Christ’s birthday? (we won’t get into the debate on whether that should really be in early January, based on changes in earlier calendars or when the conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars was supposed to have occurred to produce the ‘star’ that the wise men followed). At least Christ’s birthday would be a celebration of a solar return (it’s why we say ‘many happy returns’ in case you’d never considered it) After all a solar return is supposed to mark the anniversary of an important event; like my birthday or the day Inky (the cat) turned up with all his worldly possessions neatly tied up in a bundle (June 9th for those who care – and I’ve no idea when his birthday is; sometime in April so the vet reckons). As Christians view yearly time based on BC or AD it would seem to make sense to have the calendar start on what we now consider December 25th.

Now the Chinese New Year makes sense (much to do with legend): it starts on the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice. – February 18th this year.

The Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashanh is even more complicated to work out being 163 days after the first day of Pesach (Passover) which in turn begins on the 15th day of Nisan. It all gets terribly confusing but the Hebrew Calendar, like the Chinese Calendar, is calculated on a rule-based lunisolar calendar. So there is some celestial logic behind it.

Now, if you want to give your mind a real New Year’s work out you could do worse than read all about the history of our Gregorian calendar. It’s a right old historical, Catholic Church botch as far as I can tell. All based around Easter – itself a movable feast.

The canonical rule is that Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the 14th day of the lunar month (the nominal full moon) that falls on or after 21 March (nominally the day of the vernal equinox).

All a bit Pagan wouldn’t you say.

I have to confess that I got totally confused by all this. As far as I understand it the significant date is March 21st – the vernal equinox. The Catholic Church then adapted the earlier Julian calendar with it’s division of 12 months starting on January 1st but still left the vernal equinox at March 21st.

So, in simple terms: you work out when the vernal equinox will be; that’s March 21st (the 80th day of the year). Count back 80 days and you get to today: January 1st.

Result: it has absolutely no significance whatsoever. We’re actually celebrating a non-event.

P.S. The above is probably not completely accurate but it’s as good as you’re going to get from me today.

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One Response to Why is it New Year?

  1. Carmelo says:

    Why do I get the feeling you have time on your hands? 😉

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