December 30, 2012

New Year’s Celebrations Ain’t So New

We are but one day away from the night we will all, if done properly, never remember. Our current culturally accepted behavior sees us getting our haircuts, donning a new and ever so impressive outfit and hitting a nice restaurant before attending a nightclub or house party where we will bristle with anticipation for that final 10 second countdown followed by amorous displays to loved ones, friends and strangers, alike. The predictability of the eve in no way lessens our love of the night.

As we wait for the ball to drop, signaling the beginning of the year 2013, perhaps this year we might take a moment to reflect on the origins of our celebration. And while we are at it, why don’t we figure out where the idea of those pesky resolutions came from?

First and foremost, January 1 has only represented the first day of the year for slightly over half the time we have historic evidence New Year’s celebrations have occurred. This was due to the calendrical nightmare unleashed by the Roman king Numa Pompilius when he added Januarius and Februarius to the precedent 10 month (304 day) year observed since, according to lore, Romulus, the original founder of Rome, had implemented it. It was Julius Caesar, in the year 46 B.C., who, after consultation with prominent mathematicians and astronomers, created the Julian calendar. The Julian calendar, much like the Gregorian that followed, deemed the start of the next year should fall, always, on January 1. This was intended to honor the namesake for the month of January, Janus, who was the Roman god of beginnings.

Before the modern New Year was established, festivities were held on the first new moon after the vernal equinox. This day was in late March and was the first day of the year that shared equal parts sunlight and darkness. History tells us this date was observed more than 4,000 years ago by the ancient Babylonians. It was an agricultural holiday called Akitu, a word derived from the Sumerian for barley. Akitu also was a celebration of the Babylonian sky god Marduk and his mythical victory over Tiamat, the evil sea goddess. Akitu was also a form of inauguration day for the new Babylonian ruler or a recognition of a mandate for the current ruler to maintain his reign.

Now, what about those resolutions? The Babylonians started this ritual, too. They would make promises to better themselves with the hopes of pleasing their gods and starting the year in their good graces. As their New Year was agriculturally based, one common resolution was to return farm equipment they had borrowed from their neighbors in the previous year. (On a personal note, I hope my next door neighbor sees this post and I have a leaf blower on my front porch on Tuesday morning.)

Who would I be to abandon this time tested and honored tradition? My P90X made the journey from the shelf in my garage to its new home next to my TV. Healthy eating, actually started some weeks back, will continue on into 2013. I will work on my time management and organization skills. I will sleep more and drink less. 2013 is the year that I realize the importance of each day before they are in my rearview mirror. I will travel more. I will tell my family and friends that I love them with far more frequency.  These are my resolutions. What are yours?


Image Credit: Jag_cz / Shutterstock

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