Today we head into a new year by a quasi-secular calendar. One of the fun things about the multicultural world we’re living in is that there are lots and lots of new years to celebrate, and unlike some religious beliefs and practices, new year celebrations seem to be able to get along with each other relatively peacefully. You don’t have to think of someone else’s new year as your new year to be able to enjoy it. As they spread themselves across the calendar, there’s usually a stretch of time in which someone’s new year celebration is likely to come up. Just off the top of my head, the following occurred to me (2011 dates):
- New Year’s Day: January 1
- Chinese New Year: February 3
- Hmong New Year: date unknown
- beginning of the astrological year: March 20
- beginning of the U.S. school year: early September
- Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year): September 29
- Samhain: October 31
- Muharram (Islamic New Year): November 26
And on a personal level:
- Your birthday
The human race looks quite willing to start a new year at any time of the year, although high summer in the northern hemisphere doesn’t seem to be as popular. (As the lunar Islamic calendar moves backward against the solar Gregorian calendar, its first day passes through the summer months for a number of years.) There are all sorts of reasons for starting a new year at a particular time. The Gregorian year begins on January 1 because it inherited that date from the Julian calendar, which in turn began a new year based on a date when Roman consuls took up office. The Chinese New Year is determined astronomically: usually on the second new moon after the winter solstice. The astrological year begins when the Sun moves into Aries, and Samhain more or less falls on the halfway point between the fall equinox and the winter solstice.
For all that many witches consider Samhain our New Year’s Day, I’ve never been able to see it that way. The days are getting shorter, the temperature is dropping along with the few remaining leaves—none of this says “new” to me. But putting that together along with Samhain’s general death theme, I can see Samhain as a sort of New Year’s Eve. I’m more of a Yule-as-New-Year’s-Day person. If one must begin somewhere, the start of the return of sunlight works for me. Where I live, December 22 was two seconds longer than December 21. I treasured each of those seconds.
While we say we celebrate New Year’s Day and January 1 is the official date for government holidays, we put most of our energy into New Year’s Eve celebrations. After the clock strikes 12:00 AM, there’s not much left to do but make a few toasts, find your coat, and head home. New Year’s Day itself tends to be a quiet day. By now, many people are probably partied out. It makes for a fine day for changing calendars, listing out resolutions, and catching up on our blogging.
And on that note, Happy New Year!