Huh? Ain't It New Years?
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.
How New Years Went From 15 March to 1 January.
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.
In fact, the word "calendar" comes from all this. The first day of each month was called out by the pontifex, pontiff of the state religion, at a place called the Curia Calabra where the pontiff called the Comitia Calata. Hence the first days of the months were called Kalendae, the called, and the rest of the days of the month called from them.
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. BIG post on that coming right here in a couple of weeks. Now, back to New Years.
How New Years Went From 1 January To 25 March.
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.
(Dennis was not a Benedictine -- he was one of the so-called Scythian Monks, named after the region where they were, where the Danube meets the Black Sea, the modern Dobrogea region mostly in Romania -- but apart from that there is only good to say about him, and on 8 July 2008 was he canonised a saint by the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church.)
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 dating the years since his coming into humanity starts, as does all life, from conception, not birth. How's that for a "pro-life" witness!
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.
How New Years Went Back To 1 January.
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. Not without controversy though, which has a remnant to this day. The original "April Fools" were those who, in the minds of Gregorian calendar advocates, still foolishly insisted New Years was 25 March, which falls in April in the Gregorian calendar, or were confused about it, and tricks were sometimes played on them.
The new calendar corrected the drift of the Julian calendar, but the original motivation had nothing to do with changing New Years but with establishing 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)!
One thing that didn't change, we still start numbering things with 1. So it's 2010 because it's the 10th and last year of the first decade of the 21st century, just like ten years ago it was 2000 because it was the 100th and last year of the 20th century and the 1000th and last year of the last millennium, and 2011 will be the first year of the second decade of this millennium just as 2001 was its first year.
So the story's over, the world now has one calendar functionally, while other traditional ones can continue to be used locally. Well, almost.
What 1 January Is In The Church Calendar (None Of The Above)!
What a hoot -- the "secular" calendar is of religious origin in the Christian Church! And the church has a calendar too, which isn't really a calendar! It's better called the church year, and the new year starts with the First Sunday of Advent. Some things have a fixed date taken from the secular calendar and fall on that date every year, the proprium sanctorum, so named because they are usually but not always about a saint, like the Annunciation is always 25 March. Some things do not have a fixed date from year to year because they are seasons or times in the life of Christ with reference to Easter which does not have a fixed date, the proprium de tempore, of time, like Ash Wednesday is 17 February this year but was 25 February in 2009. Calendars put out by churches are generally like secular calendars, with the de tempore given on the date they fall that year.
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. Guess what, they ash canned the Circumcision altogether and put in a local Roman practice from about 1500 years ago, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God! Actually they tinkered with the old usage too; it was called the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and along with it celebrate the World Day of Peace. I'm sure she loved that one! It ain't about me, you clowns, it's about him, and by the way, he said the peace he leaves is his peace, not as the world gives but the Holy Spirit sent from God after he returns to the Father. 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 -- we still got it! -- 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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