New Year, New You

Why is it that most of the world today observes New Years in January?  This date has not been New Years as long as you may have imagined.  While January 1st is a relatively modern time to have the New Year begin, New Year's resolutions have been observed long before that.

The evolution of the January 1st New Years

The beginning of the New Year has not always been celebrated during the winter season. In fact, New Years occuring on January 1st is a relatively modern concept. In many ancient cultures the new year began either around the equinoxes or solstices. This makes sense as there were significant astrological events to mark the event. 

 

It took a couple of incarnations of the calendar to get us where we are today. The Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C, is the calendar that puts the new year at this time of year. Even within the Julian calendar however, this day could slide around quite a bit. It could fall even as far back as Christmas. This is due to the astronomical year being slightly longer than 365 days. To be a nerd about it the astronomical year is 365 days, 5 hours,48 minutes, and 45.25 seconds long. Incidentally, Leap years are how we reconcile the time difference between the calendar year and the astrological year. The main difference in the Gregorian and Julian calendars is a slight adjustment in the frequency of Leap Years.

The Gregorian Calendar 

Not everyone began following the Gregorian calendar when it was introduced in 1582. England and the colonies took almost 200 years to adopt it. They began in 1752. Japan adopted it in 1873. China and the Soviet Union didn’t begin using the Gregorian calendar until 1912 and 1918 respectively. Greece was very late to the party and didn’t jump on the bandwagon until 1928. 

In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII proclaimed a reformation of the Julian calendar. This was to make fall in line more accurately, longer, with the astrological year. The Gregorian calendar is what most of the world follows today. Even now, however,  not everyone follows the Gregorian calendar. Most muslim countries, for example,  still follow calendars based in Islam. 

Other New Years

Different religions observe New Years at different times. The Jewish and the Chinese traditions both base the beginning of the year on a lunar calendar. In Judaism, Rosh Hashanah, is typically celebrated between September and October. The Chinese New Year falls between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20.

Astrological significance

Despite the Gregorian calendar not basing the new year on an equinox or solstice, there is an astrological event you may never have heard of that occurs this time of year. In early January the Earth's orbit takes it  closer to the sun than it will be for the rest of the year. This is known as perihelion. In 2021 we will reach this on January 2nd at 8:50 a.m Eastern Time. It is counter intuitive to think that we are the closest to the Sun during the winter and it is during the hot summer that we are the furthest away. The universe can be funny like that. 

NASA sunrise

Resolutions

The month of January gets its namesake from the Roman god Janus. He is the god of doorways and gates. It is said he has two faces, one that looks forward into time and one that looks back into the past. Because of this Julius Caesar made the New Year fall in January. It’s too perfect, January, a month named after Janus, being the gateway into a new year and a time to look forward and reflect on the past. Bravo Caesar, bravo. 

 

It is on New Years, whenever it is celebrated,  that we reflect inwards and look at what we like about ourselves and what we would like to change. It is a time for repentance and reflection, and has been that way for a very long time. The first civilization to record having a type of New Year's resolution were the Baylonians around 2000 BC. They, however, had very different views on what this meant. For one, to them New Years fell in mid March. Secondly, resolutions were religious in nature. Essentially this was a time you vowed to the gods to repay any debts you had and return any borrowed objects. If you succeeded in this you were in the gods favor for the rest of the year. If not. . .well the gods would be unhappy with you and on your own head be it. 

What new years can mean to us besides, Champaign and a hangover.

Today, most of us do not fear the retribution of a pagan deity for not sticking to our resoutions, and it shows. It is reported that 48-50% of people partake in the New Year’s resolution tradition. Out of these people the success rate of those that acheive their goal is a meager 8%.

 

There is nothing wrong with this. A New Year’s resolution is a very personal thing, made for a variety of personal reasons. It is never a poor choice to look in a search for what you can do to improve your own life and reflect on changes, big or small, that can increase your own happiness and quality of life. When I desire change there is a small ritual, that’s easy to do, and can be as powerful as you would like to make it. It’s become a cliche, but write down anything you want to get rid of, or things you would like to attract on a piece of paper. Now burn that bad boy and release it into the universe. As with anything in life, the important part is the intention.