Well, here it is, the last day of 2008. Here in Tucson we have only about 4 hours to go. How many friends will go out tonight and commemorate the occasion, by doing something foolish while resolving to do wise things all next year?
How did the New Year manage to end up being celebrated in the middle of the night, in the dead of winter? Perhaps, it is due to both the Romans and the Catholic Church.
From what I can tell, in most cultures, the “new year” has predominately been observed on the first day of spring – the vernal equinox – marking the earth’s “new beginning”. The ancient Babylonians did so thousands of years ago. This was true in England (and the colonies) until the 1750’s.
So what happened? Well, it seems that the Roman Empire had a lot to do with this. The Romans developed their own calendar and originally celebrated the New Year on March 15th (also called the “Ides of March”, by the way). But in about 153 BC they declared January 1 to be the beginning of a new year. Because that early Roman calendar wasn’t quite synchronized with the earth’s actual orbit around the sun, the Senate repeatedly tampered with the start dates. And what’s more, the Romans didn’t actually change the first day; they MOVED all the dates, so that Jan 1 fell in the beginning of spring (today’s March 15th, which made for a more pleasant celebration). Years later, around 47 BC, Julius Caesar (you remember him – Ides of March and all that) made a new calendar (the “Julian calendar”) that was better aligned with the Sun. Old Julius again set January 1st as the start, but in order to get the seasons re-synchronized, he let the previous year drag on for quite some time – some say 445 days. That put January 1 back into the dead of winter and it put the “Ides of March” back at the beginning of spring. Imagine, if Julius had just left March 15 as New Years day, Brutus and the Senate might have been partying too hard for the “Ides of March” to stab him in the back and change the course of Roman history (which would later become Christian history).
Had the Church left well enough alone, we might have eventually restored some continuity with the past. But early Church leaders were upset that people continued to “Party Hearty” around the end of harvest season (late December by today’s calendar) and Hi-Jacked the 25th for a Catholic Mass celebrating Christ’s birth. They didn’t INTEND that it be His “Birthday”, but early Christians apparently didn’t make the distinction. And the Church did NOTHING for the vernal equinox, which was actually closer to the actual birth of Jesus, until some other unsynchronized saint pulled out his calendar, found the Christ Mass, counted backwards nine months, and decided that March 25 should be an important day too (well, at least for Mary and GOD). And so they proclaimed the Feast of Annunciation (deciding that “sex” with God was just too blasphemous to mention – good call – so they said look, God SAYS and it IS, so an announcement is all we need. They pointed to the announcement by Gabriel to Mary that she would have a son and call him Emanuel. Mary evidently didn’t catch that naming part.)
And if celebrating THAT wasn’t enough to convince everyone that Jesus was actually born in December, some other wise guy said “hey, since Jesus was a Jew, his circumcision would have been eight days after his birth, falling on, (get ready) January the First! And that became the day when the Church observed the Feast of the Circumcision. (Instituting that Feast may really have been an early attempt to subdue New Year’s celebration – to “nip it in the bud” so to speak)
So, the way I figure it, sometime around 1750, some anti-Semite, somewhere said “hey! We don’t want to make a big deal of Christ’s JEWISH birth” and January 1, in the dead of winter, once again became “New Years Day” to Christians around the world. And celebrating the “eve” at night left the daytime open for attending mass (thereby establishing plausible deniability).
So, Yes Christians, if you celebrated the “Birth of Christ” as December 25th, when you go out tonight to celebrate the New Year, you might also be celebrating the “Bris of Christ”. But remember that the baby Jesus didn’t feel a thing. And you likely won’t either – Until Tomorrow – but that’s next year’s headache.
Aw, This is just HUMOR (laughing at stuff that ain’t funny). Have a Fantastic New Year!