Pay Attention to the Two-Faced New Year

Yay. We rang in the New Year. In the U.S., we wore funny hats, tooted blowouts, twirled noisemakers, popped confetti champagne poppers, set off fireworks, and watched The Times Square ball drop. We either made New Year’s resolutions or resolved not to make any. Now that it’s over, we shift our focus to simply remembering the new year’s date.

Once the parties are over we forget about what a new year could mean. What it once meant. We no longer look back. It saddens us. Shames us. Maybe even horrifies us. We don’t really look forward, either. Somewhere in the vagueness of the next 365 days lies the everyday-ness of our lives, demanding our attention without any real lessons learned from last year or serious plans for the year we just started. Instead of truly observing the year behind us and planning for the one ahead, we have forgotten all of the markers embedded in the seasonal festivals, sabbats, tabernacle feasts, and the various versions of the wheels of life. Christians especially eschew observing the lessons of each season, each cycle, because they believe that acknowledging our connections to the natural world is an abomination to God. This is wrong and despite what the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. (And of course, what The Byrds said in Turn! Turn! Turn!)

Our ancestors wouldn’t understand this neglect.

We were once a people intimately connected to God through nature. We studied the cosmos, the movements of the stars and planets, the moon, the sun, the tides, the planting, growing, harvesting, and storing seasons. We understood that not only did these events and seasons make possible our very existence, but that we could learn much from them. God (or to some, “gods”) made it this way on purpose.

January is named for the Roman god Janus. Janus was always depicted as having two faces: one looked behind him and the other looked ahead. Janus could simultaneously see the past and the future. He knew what lay on both sides of the door, both the endings and the beginnings, the transitional times and passages. He was commonly called pater, meaning “father.” His name was invoked not just at the beginning of the year, but the beginning of every month and every day. And because wisdom is gleaned from knowing both the past and the future, Janus was even invoked at the beginning of rituals performed to other gods because, we might say, “father knows best.” Think of this every time you say “January.”

Oh snap! That’s pagan crap!

The Hebrew calendar observes times and seasons, too, including  Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of every month marked by the new moon. (See Exodus 12:1,2; Numbers 10:10; Psalm 81:3) So yeah, there’s that.

Janus-Vatican
The bust of the god Janus in the Vatican Museum

We can’t seem to escape the “pagan crap” that Christians think should be abhorred.

Before 46 AD, the Roman year was a lunar calendar (based on the moon’s orbit) that initially consisted of 10 months totaling 304 days (only later adding two additional months). However, the math and dates were inconsistent, so at the direction of Julius Caesar, an astronomer named Sosigenes calculated a solar calendar (based on the sun’s orbit) more like the one the Egyptians followed. This is known as the Julian calendar with 365.25 days a year beginning on January 1 instead of the first new moon after the vernal (spring) equinox, which is in March, when the day is equally divided between light and dark hours. Balanced. Much like the Eastern principle of yin and yang. (Where did those “wise men” come from, following that bright star to a certain babe in a manger?) But by the mid-15th century, the Julian calendar had added ten days to the year because it actually takes the sun 365.242199 days to complete its orbit, not 365.25 days. So back to the drawing board went a Jesuit astronomer, Christopher Clavius, who gave us today’s Gregorian calendar: 365 days a year and an extra day every four years. That pretty much set the date for the Western New Year in stone.

Sol Invictus
The sun god, Sol Invictus

Interesting observation: The ancients believed that the sun god Sol Invictus was born on or around winter solstice –specifically on December 25. The new year is eight days later, January 1. The Roman church set Christ’s birth as December 25 and in Jewish tradition males are circumcised eight days after their birth. SO, if Jesus had been born on December 25 (though he was not), he would have been circumcised on January 1. If you think about it, the sun god was born/reborn at every winter solstice and consecrated (promised) eight days later on the first day of the new year by Janus, the god of endings and beginnings, transitions.

Here we are now, celebrating the New Year as if it has no other meaning than a different date or making resolutions that we’re pretty sure we will break.

Perhaps our ancient brothers and sisters paid more attention to things than we do. Perhaps these “things” were part of God’s plan so we would plant ourselves, grow, reap what we’ve sown, and sit in silent reflection on what we learned in the previous seasons, to better prepare for the next one. And perhaps two-faced Janus was a valuable reminder to be more than just a noisemaker.

What do you think?

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