In the world, it's simple -- Happy New Years!
The Gregorian Calendar, the Western calendar that is pretty much the conventional standard the world over now even when alongside traditional calendars, counts this the first day of the new year. It wasn't always so, even in earlier Western calendars.
New Years Day was 15 March in ancient Rome. But in 153 B.C., the date of the new year was changed to 1 January, that being the date when the two ruling consuls were chosen. "Were chosen", passive voice, indicates an agent, someone who did it, so who did it? Originally they were elected. Passive voice again, who's the agent, who elected them? The Comitia Centuriata, that's who, made up of all Roman citizens and divided into centuries, which are theoretically voting groups of 100 though not in practice, which voted first within itself and then as a unit in the election.
But, the consuls did not assume office until being ratified by election by the Comitia Curiata, which was made up only of members of elite families. There were two other assemblies in old Rome, the Comitia Calata and the Comitia Tributa, the former under the leadership of the pontifex maximus and concerned mostly with ceremonies and the latter administrative and judicial. There were two consuls, not one, and they ruled to-gether. The plural of consul, consules, literally means walking to-gether. However, as the Roman Republic waned and the Roman Empire emerged, while the facade of the republic remained, power moved from the people to the Emperor.
Gee, curia, pontifex maximus, what was once the real deal becoming a facade with real power in a single man, elected officials giving way to appointed ones -- does that course of events in Rome sound like Church as well as Empire? Well, that's another story. Or maybe it isn't. Anyway back to New Years.
Dionysius Exiguus -- Dennis the Short, in the sense of humble -- in his tables for the dates of Easter in 525 A.D. (anno domini, year of our lord, A.D. being his invention too!) came up with a new system for numbering years to replace naming them after consuls and the system of the Emperor Diocletian, who had been a major persecutor of Christians. He set the start of the new year in the Julian (as in Julius Caesar) calendar at 25 March to co-incide with the Feast of the Annunciation. Annunciation of what? The announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she would bear Christ, count 'em, nine months, the period of human gestation, before the celebration of Christ's birth on 25 December. The years themselves though continued to be lined up from January to December Roman style.
Why New Years Day three months into the list of months of the year? Because years of Our Lord do not begin from his birth but from his conception, which is the beginning of a life. Thus God's entry into human history in the Incarnation as Jesus begins with the conception, not the birth, and therefore the years since his coming into humanity date as does all life from conception, not birth.
We English call The Annunciation Lady Day, and it was New Years Day until 1752 when the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar was official. In fact, the tax year in the UK still begins on 6 April, which is 25 March in the Julian Calendar adjusted to the Gregorian one.
Well, that's the way it was until the Gregorian Calendar we use now came about. Who's Gregory. It's Pope Gregory XIII, who on 24 February 1582 decreed it in the papal bull "inter gravissimas", which means "among the most serious". Ancient practice in Rome and many other places was to name a document after its first word or two (the names of the books in the Hebrew Bible are this way) and the bull starts "Among the most serious duties of our pastoral office ... ". A papal bull, btw, doesn't mean what you might be thinking, chucklesome as that is. It's a formal charter by a pope, taking its name from the bulla, a cord encased in clay and stamped with a seal, used to prevent tampering and thus ensure authenticity. Call it a low tech anti hacking device.
The new calendar, a revision of the old calendar of Julius Caesar, wasn't immediately adopted in the civil realm, although it was during this period that adoption of 1 January as the start of the new year really took hold. The new calendar corrected the drift of the Julian calendar, but the original motivation was to establish a common date for Easter throughout the Christian Church following what it took to be the provisions of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. It met with resistance from non Catholic countries, Protestant and Orthodox alike, seeing it as a Catholic power play, and of course had no relevance to the traditional calendars outside the Christian world of the time. In fact even in Europe the last country to adopt the Gregorian calendar, Greece, only did so in 1923, even after Japan (1873), China (1912) and the newly Communist Russia (1918)!
So the story's over, the world now has one calendar functionally, while other traditional ones can continue to be used locally.
Sort of. 1 January falls eight days after the celebration of the birth of Jesus. OK, it's the eighth day of Christmas, let's continue our Christmas celebration as we saw in the previous post. But guess what? In the Law -- Law of Moses -- on the eighth day after birth a male child is to be circumcised, according to the Law, to put him within the Law, and is also given his name. So on what we call 1 January now, the Church celebrates the Circumcision of Jesus, wherein he is under the Law that he will fulfill, and his blood is first shed for us as he is put under the Law as it will be shed in his Crucifixion as he redeems us from the condemnation of the Law -- the good news, the Gospel!
And with it, is celebrated his naming, either on the same day, or the day after, or the Sunday after but before Epiphany if there is one. Jesus, a form of Joshua, who, as Joshua took over from Moses and completed the journey to the Promised Land, so this Joshua takes over to complete the journey for us, that due to sin we cannot make, to the promised land of eternal life with God. And too the maternity of Mary as mother of this fully human and fully divine child who would do this for us is honoured too.
So for the Christian, it's Happy Feast of the Circumcision (and Naming) of Jesus!!So the story's over, there you have it!
Well, yes it is, however, Rome, be it Empire or Church, is ever at the ready to tinker with stuff, and tinker they did at Vatican II in replacing the church calendar and lectionary in its various forms for centuries with a whole new one with three different versions of the year, (maybe this year the church will finally ash can this latest Roman revisionism rather than tinker with it some more, God willing!) and guess what, gone is the Circumcision and now is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God! I'm sure she loved that one! It ain't about me, you clowns, it's about him. Or, as she had to say to those serving the wedding at Cana, Do whatever he tells you.
And that is her message, for which we honour her, but above all listen to her. Happy Feast of the Circumcision, and whether you include it this day, to-morrow, or next Sunday, the Name of Jesus!!
And do whatever he tells you, like his mother said.
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