To all my friends and followers, my New Year’s wishes for you… May your heart be light and may you be blessed with good health in 2015. May the New Year find you surrounded by loved ones and you find the joy in small things and in whatever you do.
On this day, a year ago, sitting on my couch at the balcony, I was wondering as why we celebrate January 1st as the New Year’s Day. The date of the New Year seems so fundamental that it’s almost as though nature ordained it. But New Year’s Day as Jan 1 is only a civil event. Of course in school most of us have fairly read about it, but I wanted to revive my knowledge. As I was reading some facts on the web, I also chanced upon an old book on astrotheology gifted to me by my grandfather on my 14th birthday. The pages of the book turned yellow but it has enough information that can refresh our memories!
Let me take this opportunity and share with you a bit of this knowledge. While there’s no astronomical reason to celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1, our modern celebration of New Year’s Day stems from an ancient Roman custom, the feast of the Roman god Janus – god of doorways and beginnings. The name for the month of January also comes from Janus, who was depicted as having two faces. One face of Janus looked back into the past, and the other peered forward to the future.
For people in the Northern Hemisphere, January is a logical time for new beginnings. At the December solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, we had the shortest day of the year. By early January, the days are obviously getting longer. This return of longer hours of daylight had a profound effect on cultures that were tied to agricultural cycles. It has an emotional effect on people even in cities today.
The early calendar-makers may not know, but today we know there is another bit of astronomical logic behind beginning the year on January 1. Earth is always closest to the sun in its yearly orbit around this time. This event is called Earth’s perihelion.
People didn’t always celebrate the New Year on January 1. The earliest recording of a new year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, circa 2000 B.C. That celebration – and many other ancient celebrations of the New Year, following it – were celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox, around March 20. Meanwhile, the ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians began their new year with the autumnal equinox around September 20. And the ancient Greeks celebrated on the winter solstice, around December 20.
There are numerous types of Indian New Year’s days celebrated in various regions at various times of the year. Ugadi is celebrated as New Year’s Day in Karnataka and Andhra pradesh. Gudhi Padwa is celebrated as New Year’s Day in Maharashtra. Bestu Varas is the New Year’s Day for Gujaratis and falls on the day after Diwali.In Bengal, the new year is celebrated in mid-April on the first day of Baishakh as well.
By the Middle Ages, though, in many places the new year began in March. Around the 16th century, a movement developed to restore January 1 as New Year’s Day. In the New Style or as per Gregorian calendar, the New Year begins on the first of January.
Just like the one face of Janus that looks back into the past, and the other peers forward to the future, I believe new year is a time (and an opportunity) to reflect on the past, while looking to the future.
After all, it’s a new beginning, as noted author Lucy Maud Montgomery makes a statement: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”