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Why do we have such a celebration on New Year's Eve?

02 January 2013, 08:45

New Year’s Eve: Currently this is acknowledged as 31 December in the modern western world. We all know that it was not always this date and that different religions and cultures have various dates for new year. In fact, there are at least half a dozen dates considered to be New Year.

Jewish – Rosh Hashannah is somewhere between mid-September and early October each year; Islamic - is based on a 354 day lunar calendar and is calculated from the year (622 AD) in which Mohammed emigrated from Mecca to Medina. The date moves backwards by approximately a fortnight each year; India – each state and branch of Hinduism in India has its own date, most of them being in mid-April but some are in March; Chinese – this country’s new year falls anywhere between 21 January and 19 February because the year is calculated on a lunisolar (moon/sun) calendar adding extra months as required to create a 60-year cycle; Christian – the Christians have changed the date a couple of times depending on who or which nation had the greatest influence at the time. “At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on Dec. 25, the birth of Jesus; March 1; March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation; and Easter.” The reason given, during the Middle Ages, was that the celebrations on 1 January were pagan and so the church cancelled that date as the start of the new year.

With all these possibilities of a new year date, due to many different calendars and beliefs, mainly based on lunar months, why do we celebrate 31 December as New Year’s Eve? Why do people get extremely excited about such an evening and spend vast amounts of money on fireworks, food and drink? I do not have the answers really but would like people to start asking themselves if it is really all a necessary activity. Think back on what you did last night and whether it filled you with great happiness or not. Many today have an awful hangover of at least a horrible headache. Others unfortunately did not make it home. Was it worth it?

People have been partying on New Year’s Eve for about 4000 years. The people of Mespotamia celebrated in mid-March around the vernal equinox while Greece chose the Winter solstice i.e. 21 December in the modern Gregorian calendar. The early Romans chose March 1st in a calendar of only 10 months. In 700BC, the months of January and February were added and then in 153BC the Roman leader at the time decided that 1 January would be New Year’s Day because that was the day that the Roman Consuls began their one year tenure of office. When Julius Caesar came to power around 46BC he introduced the Julian Calendar. Oh the power of an autonomous ruler:

“When Julius Caesar became pontifex maximus, the Roman calendar had been so much abused that January was falling in autumn. At this point the methods of the Egyptian calendar were borrowed for the Roman. Julius Caesar, on the advice of the astronomer Sosigenes, added 90 days to the year 46 B.C. (67 days between November and December, 23 at the end of February). This caused the spring of 45 B.C. to begin in March. To retain this position of the seasons, he changed the length of most of the months: March, May, Quintilis (later named July after Julius Caesar), and October he left as they were; he added 2 days each to January and Sextilis (later named August to honor the Emperor Augustus); February was 28 days long except that in every fourth year a day was inserted between the 23rd and the 24th of the month.”

This was how it stayed for 1500 years with 1 January accepted as New Year by most European and other colonised countries. At this point many Christians declared new year celebrations pagan and changed the date as mentioned above. Enter Pope Gregory X111 in 1582 when 1 January was once again declared New Year’s Day. Most Roman Catholic countries accepted this alteration but, Britain and its colonies, spent another 200 years keeping new year as 1 March. Then in September 1752 Britain removed 11 days from the calendar because, even though the Julian Calendar was fairly accurate and differed from the solar calendar by only 11½mins, this added up over the centuries. Poof, just like that one went to sleep in Britain on 2 September 1752 and woke 12 hours but 11 days later. New Year’s Day was once again 1 January in Protestant countries too.

All this information does not give any reason as to WHY we celebrate the coming in of a new year, whenever we believe it to be, in such rowdy and often decadent fashion, with the general exception of the Jews and Muslims. Why? A new day has dawned just the same as yesterday, we are still in holiday mode anyway and no major pole shift has happened. Any ideas?

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