Why January 1st is Not the Start of the New Year

We live in an age where timekeeping has become an assumed background condition that we do not question. Yet nothing regulates our lives as much as the clock and calendar do. They tell us when we are supposed to work, rest, worship, celebrate, and play. So let us begin with questioning the purported start of the Euro-western New Year.

First, we must define what is meant by a year. A year according to the dictionary is a period of time measuring 12 months or 365 days long. More precisely a year is a measure of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun.

The question for us is how do we determine the criteria for the start of the solar cycle? That question is not that easy to answer once you realize that a cycle is a circle, and its impossible to determine where a circle starts or ends. Indeed, I have come to the conclusion that there is no end and no beginning in the absolute sense but that idea will be discussed in much deeper detail at another time.

A no beginning/no end point of view is a deeply disrupting idea for a culture (Western/Judeo-Christian), whose ideological underpinnings assumes the idea of absolute beginnings and endings. But I will say that there are attributes particular to specific points in the solar cycle. What we name those points is relative to where we stand on the globe. There are better terms to describe the stages of cyclical processes than beginning or end.

Fortunately for us, perfect seamless circles are extremely rare in nature. Stars and planets are not perfectly spherical, for they bulge around their midsections. Planetary orbits are not perfect circles either, rather they are elliptical or ovoid like an egg. As such the Earth is nearest the Sun around January third and furthest away around July 4th.

We also find that orbital periods are not whole numbers. We experience the solar cycle as a gradually changing pattern that repeats, and it is characterized by 2 extremes and 2 median temporal markers; the solstices and equinoxes respectively.

The following excerpt from another article of mine entitled In Search of a Universal New Year: In Honor of August 13th or the Day the World was Born provides us with the criteria that various cultures have used, or still use to determine the start of the year cycle.

Presently, there is no universal basis for what qualifies the start of a new year. Every culture seems to have its own set of regional parameters for determining the start of the new year. The Chinese celebrate theirs in either late January or early February, according their lunar calendar.

The ancient Egyptians linked the appearance of the star Sirius and the annual flooding of the Nile river in the month of July to signal the start of their new year. The Egyptian new year starts 1 month after the summer solstice. The many cultures of India celebrate the new year on various dates during the month of April, or within one month of the spring equinox.

Nordic cultures keyed theirs to the winter solstice. The Celtic Samhain, now vulgarized as Halloween, is celebrated by present day neopagans, Wiccans, and Druids as the start of their new year.

The Maori of New Zealand looked for the appearance of the Pleiades in May to signal the start of their new year. The Hawaiians also pegged their new year to the appearance of the Pleiades, but their new year falls in October since the Hawaiian Islands are in the northern hemisphere. The Aztec-Mexicas celebrated the new year in early March several days before the spring equinox.

And then there is Gregorian January first to mark the start of the new year for Euro-westerners. The Gregorian calendar inherited January 1st from the Roman Julian calendar. The Romans marked January first as the new year in order to honor Julius Caesar’s exploit as the founder of the “rational calendar”. Contrast the Roman criteria with the fact that the new year of all other cultures is related to some seasonal and/or astronomical aspect. The foregoing is why I refer to the Gregorian calendar as an urbanized solar calendar, for it reflects the whims of the city lords more than anything else.

The most common denominator for the start of the new year in most other cultures is the start of the growing season, or end of the harvest. In some cases, either the solstices or equinoxes are recognized as the start of the year. The start of the new year for cultures other than the Euro-western is more often than not related to the agricultural, seasonal, and astronomical particulars of their respective region.

Most pre-Christian cultures of Europe’s northern hemispheric latitudes recognized the winter solstice as the start of the new year , as the sun symbolically dies and is reborn the next day. The solstices and equinoxes provide us with critical markers along the Earth’s trip around the Sun. It is the solstices that provide us with the only 2 turning points in the solar cycle. The equinoxes are more like ceremonial markers of the mid-points between the 2 turning points. The solstices indicate transition points.

The start of the new year cycle can be viewed as universal for those in the northern hemisphere when reckoned from the winter solstice, and as defined by the atmospheric changes (rain, cold, snow) that accompany the gradual increase and decrease in ambient air temperature as the sun ascends and descends respectively. The same would apply to those of the southern hemisphere except that their new year would start with the summer solstice.

The process of cooling and warming is minimized in the tropical regions. The most defining aspect of seasonal variation in the tropics is dry and rainy seasons. Nonetheless, it is the sun’s to and fro movement, and its attendant affect on atmospheric conditions that drives precipitation patterns. Therefore we can safely equate the start of the new year with each hemisphere’s ascendant solstice, for it is the ascendant sun that initiates the life cycle of seed to harvest for either hemisphere.

 

Thus it is the ascendant solstices that provide us with the fixed and natural starting points for each hemisphere’s respective new year as it relates to the initiation of the life cycle. Emergence equates with beginnings from an Earth based perspective. Even so, some cultures will focus on the particular seasonal markers of their region to signal the start the new year. Whatever the case, the defining parameter for most non Euro-western cultures is the start of the life cycle as it progresses from seeding to harvest, or from the general increase in the availability of food sources.

It seems that January 1st was selected to honor Julius Caesar for his work on the rational calendar but missing from that article is the fact that January 1st is the day when Sirius, the brightest star, is at the Zenith at midnight. That is a significant astronomical marker! I would conjecture to say that Caesar’s astrologers recommended that day based on that fact. But that astronomical fact does not qualify January first as the first day of the new year since it does not accord with planetary phenomena in the way that the solstices affect the life cycles of Earth’s organisms.

 

 

2 comments

  1. Richard Cronin

    I am a staunch proponent of the Proverbial declaration “There is no new thing under the sun.” I see this sentence conveying an alleged absolute quality of matter being incapable of annihilation and that all matter (including intellectual matter which consists of a series of conceptual elements we call “words” rather than physical matter which consists of atoms and molecules). There are also many individual occurrences of Temporal matter which is made up with of a continual progression of sequential moments of situation or location which is directly linked to the existence of physical, intellectual and empirical matter which consists of an empirical singularity which has an ability to duplicate itself by applying its own intellect and its own energy to reproduce duplicate clones of its own self and is able to completely alter its own nature in such a way that the “Child” singularity bears not a single similarity to the “Parent”. That is to say if the singularity that existed before the big bang was observed to give birth to a child particle, that particle may be an exact copy of the parent or it may be as different as an electron is to a definable “degree” of thermal variance or an emotional element such as benevolence or hostility. The second birth of a child singularity might be a degree of brightness; and the third child may be a “null set” entity, to wit the blank space which is now being called dark matter.

    I have given this concept only minimal consideration (due to spiritual beliefs) in regard to substance and value but, I can imagine the laws of quantum mechanics and string theory being in agreement with this peculiar theory. I have chosen, in my capacity of a sentient human being, to apply a definition for this capability to produce an offspring that is completely alien to the parent.

    Do we not say “I have given birth to a unique paradigm for personal serenity.” I am not made of serenity. My existence is a hardscrabble collection of cells, a few dimensional processes like digestion and orientation, some senses, and an elusive purpose of being. I am not made up of a single happy thought. However, in the manner of a “Magical God”, I am able to create, apparently anything I care to.
    I call my concept “The Nebuchadnezzor Effect”. In that, according to traditional political science, King Nebuchadnezzor had absolute authority to say on the 13 Day of May every citizen who is subject to his decree will give one hours worth of their salary as a tax paid into a “Community Chest” for the welfare of the elderly. On the next day or else before the sunset he could change his mind and declare the tax will be an amount like $7.58 for everyone regardless of wealth. The next thought could earmark the funds to provide health care to children as well or only to old women who are widows. Or he could completely obliterate the tax at anytime he felt that the tax was no longer necessary.

    I feel this theory is valid in that every school of thought is a distinct child of observation, analyses and application. Validity does not matter. Isaac Newton had several concepts which have been proven to be incorrect. Belief and validity do not make a concept real. Nor does error turn a human being into an anti-social monstrous malefactor.

    I intend to examine this Tzolkin cycle in that I have been considering Jung’s concept of synchronicity.

    The material contained herein is my own concepts and is covered by certain copyright laws. 1. I deem the authority to the reader of this article on or after January 21, 2014, the limited right to cite a specific statement, couch it in terms of a direct quote and simply refer to the quoted material as “Your Concept” or “Your theory”. You may further argue the validity or lack of veracity in contrast or comparison to any other cited theory either your own or that of another. 2. Although I may cite a condition of similarity between reproductive variance and the nature of the authority vested in King Nebuchadnezzar, the comparison is purely speculative on my part and does not reflect on the actual laws and mandates of this historical person. 3. I intend malice toward none and tolerance to all. If what I say offends you personally I apologize here and now. You have every right exhaustively to disagree and refute my assumptions. 4. Within the framework of this discussion board you may order a retraction of any sentence or phrase that you may find offensive or disparaging of your own thoughts. 5. You may not file a suit or an injunction forbidding my right to express the concepts which I present on any legal precept other than that concerning freedom of speech as covered by the Bill of Rights of the United States. end of disclaimer.

    I am a wit and the following is a joke… It does not describe actual events and the characters portrayed as “you” and “me” are fictitious and bear no likeness to either you, your actual self or I, my actual self.

    If we disagree you have the choice to either observe or not the traditions and customs associated with the mistletoe attached to the bottom edge of my coattails.

    • Rohaan Solare

      Thank you for your very curious and entertaining commentary.

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