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. Here's the story.
How New Years Went From 15 March To 1 January.
In traditional calendars the world over, a new year begins in springtime, understandable in that the season suggests newness, the start of a new growth cycle, etc. So how did 1 January come to be the start of the new year? The answer, also including why calendars are called "calendars", comes from Rome, as does pretty much everything else.
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, because that is the date when the two ruling consuls were chosen. OK great, but what's a consul and why are there two of them? In 509 BC the Romans abolished the Roman Kingdom and established the Roman Republic, replacing the office of king with the office of consul, to be jointly held by two men so power never is concentrated in one man. The Roman Republic lasted 482 years, until 27 BC when the Roman Empire began. The enormous active legacy the Roman Republic left to the entire world is covered in this blog's post for 21 April, the date of the founding of Rome.
"Were chosen" you say, that's 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 was 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 were 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. (abbreviation for anno domini, an ablative of time in Latin meaning "in the year of our lord"; A.D. was 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. In his reform of the Julian (as in Julius Caesar) calendar he set the start of the new year at 25 March. Why? Because in his calendar that's the date that co-incides with the Feast of the Annunciation. Annunciation of what?
The announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she would bear Christ and just as important, her consent to do so, that's what. Then count 'em, nine months later, the period of human gestation, comes the celebration of Christ's birth on 25 December. The years themselves though continued to be lined up from January to December Roman style.
So why is the Annunciation celebrated on 25 March? Well, not only the Annunciation but a lot of stuff is held in Jewish and/or Christian legend to have happened about that time, which, if you notice, is right around the vernal, or Spring, equinox, the start of the new year in traditional calendars. The date of the creation of the world, of the creation of Adam, of the revolt of Lucifer, the parting of the Red Sea to allow the exodus from Egypt, are all assigned to this time.
All of which may be, or may not be, but rather is additional significance piously but needlessly built around this: Biblical clues suggest Jesus was conceived around Passover. In the Law of Moses, in Exodus 12, the day that the Passover lamb is chosen for any year is 10 Nisan, which indeed can fall on what we call 25 March. Whether or not that is when it was, the idea it was meant to express is exactly what the Christian faith holds, namely, that Jesus is the full and final Passover lamb sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins.
It's important to understand that it's not that 25 March is for sure the date of the conception of Jesus and therefore is celebrated that day and if it wasn't that day the rest of it falls apart. It's that God become Man in Jesus to be the full and final Passover that takes our sins away and makes us not just creations but also children of God, that's the belief, so his Incarnation is celebrated on a date associated with Passover as he would suffer, die and rise again at Passover time.
OK fine, but why New Years Day three months into the list of months of the year? Because the age of grace, the time from which God entered into human history as a human, God's Incarnation, begins when any life begins, at its conception, not its birth. Therefore dating the age of grace, the years since his coming into humanity, starts from his conception, not his birth. How's that for a "pro-life" witness!
The Incarnation, happening on the Annunciation, is of such importance that in the Eastern church it is never moved from 25 March for any reason whatsoever, even if Good Friday or Easter falls on the same day, with special liturgies celebrating both done should that occur.
Dennis btw 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 other than not being Benedictine 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.
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 the change 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 in the old calendar, 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 2017 because it's the 17th year of the 21st century, just like 2000 was the 100th and last year of the 20th century and the 1000th and last year of the last millennium, and 2001 was the first year of both the first decade of this millennium and the millennium itself.
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 church 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. This is the proprium sanctorum, so named because they are usually but not always about a saint, like the Annunciation is always 25 March. Other 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 and in turn Passover, which itself does not have a fixed date. This is the proprium de tempore, of time, for example Ash Wednesday, which this year, 2017, will be 1 March, but was 10 February in 2016, and going back was 18 February 2015, 5 March 2014, 13 February 2013, 22 February 2012, 9 March 2011, 17 February 2010, and 25 February 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 put 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 for us in his Crucifixion as he redeems us from the condemnation of the Law -- the good news, the Gospel!
This ceremony is called a Bris. When you know what a Bris is, a couple of things follow from it about Jesus. One is, a male child is named at the Bris, so his being named is celebrated either on the same day as his circumcision, which is what we do, or the day after, or, if there is one, the Sunday after but before Epiphany. The name Jesus is a form of Joshua; 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, the journey to the promised land of eternal life with God.
The other thing is, the maternity of Mary as mother of this fully human and fully divine child who would do this for us is honoured too. This originally stems from refuting the claim of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius (386 - 450, give or take), that Mary was the mother of Jesus as a human only. The Maternity of Mary was to emphasise that Jesus born of Mary is fully human and fully divine.
So for the Christian, it's Happy Feast of the Bris of Jesus!! So the story's over, there you have it! Well, uh, just one more thing.
Rome, be it Empire or Church, is ever at the ready to tinker with stuff, and tinker they did. First, in 1931 Pope Pius XI moved the Maternity of Mary itself to 11 October. Then, at Vatican II, in replacing the traditional church calendar and lectionary in the various forms it has existed for centuries with a whole new one with three different versions of the year, guess what -- they ash-canned the Circumcision altogether too! And put in a local Roman practice from about 1500 years ago, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God! Which is not exactly the old Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And, as if that weren't enough tinkering, in 1967 they added a brand new one to be celebrated the same day, World Day of Peace.
I'm sure Mary loved that one! She's thinking, 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 peace 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 this day, but above all listen to her. Happy Feast of the Circumcision -- even amid our infatuation in some circles with reworking the novus ordo, 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.