Having discussed God’s sneaky impregnation of a young girl last week — hence Christmas Day — it’s only fair to give equal time to New Year’s Day. That is, the day on which we celebrate the genital mutilation, aka circumcision, of the infant Jesus (another unsolicited bodily intrusion) eight days after his birth, per Jewish custom.
There is, of course, no reason to be found in nature for the year starting on January 1. Long ago — some four thousand years in the past, in Mesopotamia — the vernal equinox, start of spring, was celebrated as the time to kick off the year. For some reason, the early Romans decided on a slightly earlier date, March 1, for New Year’s. That’s when there were ten months in a year, a fact represented by the names of our months September thru December, that is seventh thru tenth (septem, octo, novem, decem = 7, 8, 9, 10).
Tradition has it that Numa Pompilius, second king of Rome, added a couple of months, Januarius and Februarius to create our current 12-month year. Janus being the two-headed god, looking to the future and the past, his month was a natural for anticipating the year to come while simultaneously remembering the year that had just ended.
Sounds simple enough, but it took awhile for it all to be formalized: March 1 (Roman style) and March 25 (Lady Day, approximately the spring equinox) and December 21 (winter solstice) all laid claim to the start of the year. January 1 was mostly established with the Gregorian calendar. Except it didn’t happen overnight, adoption taking place anywhere from October 1582 (per Pope Gregory XIII) to Britain and the British Empire (1752) to Greece (1923).
So OK, finally it all got settled: January 1 it is, out with the old, in with the new. And in case you’re really into the Christian connection (“…when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus”), you can learn all about what happened to Jesus’ prepuce on YouTube: “The Quest for the Holy Foreskin.”
Which, if you’re into celebrating the bodily mutilation of infants, will give you a fine reason to appreciate January 1. For the rest of us, let’s just be happy that we got by another year without a global catastrophe, another 12 months of nuclear war averted. Somehow.
Hope springs eternal: 2020 just might turn out to be a glorious year! Which is what I wish for you and yours.