THE BEGINNING OF NEW YEAR

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The anti-Catholics rejected Christmas as a celebration for the birth of the Savior and Lord Jesus Christ for they believed that it is paganic and unbiblical but chose to celebrate New Year. However, how did the celebration of New Year begin?

The earliest recorded New Year’s celebration dates back some 4,000 years BC to ancient Babylon in ancient Mesopotamia. For them, the first new moon following the vernal equinox—the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness—marked the start of a new year and represented the rebirth of the natural world. They marked the occasion with a religious festival called Akitu (derived from the Sumerian word for barley, which was cut in the spring) that involved a different ritual on each of its 11 days. Through these rituals, the Babylonians believed the world was symbolically cleansed and recreated by the gods in preparation for the new year and the return of spring.

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Consequently, the Roman New Year also originally corresponded with the vernal equinox. The early Roman calendar, created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century BC, consisted of ten months and 304 days, with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox, i.e. on March.

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In 153 BC, the second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius, prefixed the months of January and February to the previous ten months of the ancient Roman calendar after taking one day from each of the six months with 30 days; for the Romans deemed even numbers to be unlucky. The new year, then, was moved from March to January because that was the beginning of the civil year, the month that the two newly elected Roman consuls—the highest officials in the Roman republic—began their one-year tenure.

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However, the ancient Roman calendar, which was a lunar system, had become wildly inaccurate over the years; so in 46 BC, the emperor Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar, known as the Julian calendar, after consultation with the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria. He, then, decreed that the new year would occur with January 1st in honor of the month’s namesake: Janus, the Roman god of change and beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future. In fact, the Romans referred to the Kalends (from calare, “proclaim”), the first day of the month and is sacred to Janus to whom sacrifice was made at the first appearance of the crescent new moon (several days after conjunction, when it passes between the sun and the earth).

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Furthermore, in medieval Europe, the celebrations accompanying the new year were considered paganic, and in AD 567 the local council of Tours abolished January 1st as the beginning of the year. At various times and in various places throughout medieval European Christendom, the new year was celebrated on December 25th, the birth of Jesus; March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation also known as the Lady Day; and the movable date of Easter.

In 1582, the late Pope Gregory XIII reformed the traditional Julian calendar through a papal bull Inter gravissimas, which introduced a refined solar calendar, known at present as the Gregorian calendar, to bring the date for the celebration of Easter to the time of the year in which it was celebrated when it was introduced by the early Church; thus, correcting also the inaccuracy in the Julian calendar’s measurement of the length of year based on the proposals made by Aloysius Lilius (1510-1576), an Italian doctor and astronomer, who suggested the reduction of the number of leap years in four centuries from 100 to 97 by making three out of four centurial years common instead of leap years and who produced an original and practical scheme for adjusting the epacts of the moon when calculating the annual date of Easter.

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With such modification, the beginning of the year was also restored to the first day of January. Although most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately, it was only gradually adopted among the non-Catholic countries.

Nevertheless, the New Year on January 1st is a civil celebration and is not advocated by the Holy Catholic Church; for the Church makes no provision of its celebration on her liturgical calendar, which ecclesiastic year starts at 4:00 PM on the Saturday preceeding the first day of Advent, the Sunday nearest to the feast day of St. Andrew. The Church even condemned the paganic, unchristian or New Age manner of celebrating that civil event. In fact, the early Christian writers and councils condemned the heathen orgies and excesses connected with the festival of the Saturnalia, which was celebrated at the beginning of the year. For instance, Tertullian (AD 155-240), a theologian, blamed Christians who regarded the customary presents — called strenae from the goddess Strenia, who presided over New Year’s Day — as mere tokens of friendly intercourse (De Idolatria xiv). Towards the end of the sixth century, the local council of Auxerre (canon I) forbade Christians strenas diabolicas observare. The second council of Tours held in AD 567 (canon 17) prescribed prayers and a Mass of expiation for New Year’s Day. Also, dances were forbidden, and pagan crimes were to be expiated by Christian fasts on New Year’s Day as admonised by St. Augustine (AD 354-430), bishop of Hippo, in his Sermon 197-198; St. Isidore (AD 560-636), archbishop of Seville, in his De ecclesiasticis officiis 1:41; and the local council of Trullo (AD 692) on its 62nd canon. When Christmas was fixed on 25th December, 1st January was also sanctified by commemorating on it the great feast of the Circumcision of the Lord, for which feast the Gelasian Sacramentary gives a Mass in Octabas Domini.

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Hence, the Holy Church celebrates the solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s motherhood to God-man, Jesus Christ, on January 1st; for it is the octave day of Christmas, the eighth day on which, according to Luke 2:21, the child was circumcised and given the name Jesus. Thus, the 1969 revision of the liturgical year and the calendar states: “1 January, the Octave Day of the Nativity of the Lord, is the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, and also the commemoration of the conferral of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.”

In his Apostolic Letter, Marialis Cultus, the late Pope Paul VI explained: “This celebration, placed on January 1 . . . is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. It is meant also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the ‘holy Mother . . . through whom we were found worthy to receive the Author of life.’ It is likewise a fitting occasion for renewing adoration of the newborn Prince of Peace, for listening once more to the glad tidings of the angels (cf. Luke 2:14), and for imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace.”

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On the other hand, all of the human traditions, customs, and practices associated to the celebration of New Year’s Day including but not limited to the display of 12-round fruits, fireworks, wearing of polka dots, etc. are influenced by cultural pseudosciences, folklores, and/or myths in relation of the pagan concept of bad and good lucks. They are, of course, not endorsed by the Holy Catholic Church. The Church indeed teaches that “All practices of magic or sorcery, by one who attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over them – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion (CCC 2117).” There is only one source of every good gifts, and that is God the Almighty. In James 1:17, it reads: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

Welcome the new year by giving thanks to God Who gave His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, through His most faithful handmaid, the ever-Virgin Mary.

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