The Origins of the New Year

Happy New Year. These words are evocative of cards, gifts, parties with family and friends. In every place there is someone happy to have added one more year to the diary of one's existence. The New Year Eve is the last night of the year, although it has evolved in its customs and superstitions.

The modern New Year is generally of hollow and meaningless consequences. Usually they are only words that soon the wind takes away. In the middle ages it was about orgies, drunkenness, and the promiscuous conduct of men. Let's start with a brief history of the New Year, going back to the most distant past in history.

The earliest known record of the New Year dates back to 2000 BC in Mesopotamia. The New Year (Akiu) began with the new moon closest to the spring equinox (mid-March in Babylon). Among the ancient people the start of the year got determined by different events of nature.

It was either around the spring equinox, autumn, summer solstice or winter. In Egypt, the beginning of the year got determined by the resurgence of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. It coincided with the overflow of the Nile that help in fertilization of the land.

The Egyptians, Phoenicians and Persians began their new year with the autumnal equinox. The Greeks began to do it during the fourth century BC, observing their new year with the winter solstice. Many ancient people performed rituals to remove the past. At the same time to purify themselves for the new year.

For example, some extinguished the fires they had used, to use new ones. The Celts celebrated their new year in autumn. It marked the end of summer and the second harvest, and the beginning of the cold and dark winter. The Celts lit sacred fires to frighten away evil spirits and honor the sun god.

The ancient Romans used to give each other branches of sacred trees as New Year's gifts. Later they give themselves walnuts covered in gold or coins printed with images of Janus. The god of doors and principles had two faces (one looking back and one facing forward). January got named in honor of the god Janus.

In the Roman Republican year, the year also began on March 25 in the Babylonian style. After 153 BC the date of the new year became 1 January and was later confirmed by the Julian calendar in AD 46. In medieval times, Europe considered the beginning of the year after spring equinox. For Anglo-Saxon England New Year's Day was after the winter solstice.

As you have seen, the changing history of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day speaks for itself. It originated in the minds of men and developed over the centuries. The rites and customs practiced in Canaan and Syria included the New Year festivals. The Greeks learned from the Canaanites the same rites.

The Greek god of wine makes his appearance on this holiday. Indeed the baby who represents the New Year is much older than it seems. In ancient Greece, during the great festival of Dionysus, a baby cradled in a basket got paraded. This was symbol of the annual (or periodical) revival of that god as the spirit of fertility.

Who was this Dionysus? Nothing less than Baccus or Bacchus - the pagan god of wine and orgies! In his honor the Greeks celebrated a festival called the Festival of the Wine. It happened during the time that corresponds to our months of January-February.

Today more alcohol get consumed during the holiday season and New Year than at any other time of year. The New Year is notorious for its licentious, unbridled, and perverse feasts.

Cronos, god of time, also makes his debut in this celebration. Another symbol of the New Year's celebrations is the familiar figure of the old man wielding a scythe. What does this old man represent? It represents the ancient Greek god Cronos. It is from the term "chronometers" from which our word "time" derives.

Among the Greek gods, Kronos perpetrated innumerable human sacrifices with his mowing blade. The silent reaper mowed lives of infants in horrific episodes of mythical cannibalism. This Greek rite of human sacrifice got adopted by ancient Rome. Here human sacrifices got practiced at least until the year 300 of the Christian era.

The celebration of the New Year is very old, and is still practiced today by almost all peoples on the face of the earth.