Today is the 16th December. We are nine days away from Christmas Day and 15 days away from New Years Day.
What does that actually mean though?
It is likely that Christmas was first celebrated in the year 333AD, instigated by the Emperor Constantine when he decided that the Roman Empire should be Christian (Catholic). Up until then, the romans had had two festivals in December, Saturnalia and Mithras. Saturnalia was a two week festival celebrating the God of Agriculture Saturn and then on the 25th, Mithras, celebrating Mithra, the Sun God.
It is likely that the 25th was chosen to remove the pagan celebration of Mithra, as Christianity had a habit of doing with Pagan Festivals.
There is no definite date, or even year of birth for Jesus, as far as I can tell, so it is an arbitrary date, chosen by man.
New Years Day doesn’t make much sense either and that also because of the romans. We run with the Julian Calendar which has 12 months attached to it and that’s weird, why did they do that? It doesn’t work, some months have 31 days, some 30 and one has 28, and that has to be changed to 29 every four years to make it fit, or it would all get a bit askew.
I am not a Christian, so I don’t celebrate the life or birth of Jesus. That doesn’t mean I don’t look forward to the holiday time and the celebration of family which it is to me. Helping out in the Children’s home means I wont even have much time off this Year. My choice.
Rock on the few days we have booked away in January.
That Christians have a right to celebrate the birth of Jesus is a given and with a lack of accurate information, it might as well be the 25th of December.
But New Year is a puzzler. As I said, the Julian calendar doesn’t work and probably with our orbit taking 365.25 days a year it would probably be a little difficult to find one that completely fits. However, if we shift our focus to the moon, that makes life much simpler and allows for the decimals to get swallowed up neatly. But even the lunar calendar doesn’t fit totally mathematically. A lunar cycle is approximately 28 days (28.07 in reality) and there are 13 of them in a year.
There’s a lot more maths if you want to get really into depth about it.
But the moon has been used by many of the old-world religions for far longer than the new world fascination with the solar year, Buddhism, Hinduism, Muslim and Native American spirituality are all lunar based. As a pagan it makes much more sense to me, I am always aware of the cycles of the moon and the way it can affect my mental equilibrium. Yep, I probably am a lunatic. A term that, for me, celebrates connection to the Earth and is in no way derogatory.
However, if we stick to the solar year, the 1st of January still doesn’t make much sense. Longest days, longest nights etc are all relevant to the solar calendar and the wheel of the Year has two celebrations that are totally attached and relevant to them. The summer and winter Solstice. The summer Solstice celebrates the longest day, and thus the shortest night, whilst the Winter Solstice celebrates the shortest day and thus the longest night.
Both easily and scientifically measurable and justified as outstanding and notable points in the solar year.
Next Wednesday is the 21st December, the Winter Solstice. I have blogged and vlogged about that many times over the past few years. It makes a great deal more sense to use the Solstice as a celebration of New Year to me. It has significance, the lighter days are coming, from here on the days get longer and life will start returning to out world in increasing amounts.
So why is it not established in our calendar? I have several answers and I suspect you know what they are.
I also have another suggestion. Sawain, now often called Halloween and associated with ghosts, ghouls and toffee apples, is a great alternative. Whilst the association with spirits is justified, the veil between worlds is at its most narrow, it’s also the celebration of the last passing of summer and marks the time for dormancy, when we should hunker down, growing internally (mentally) and begin planning for the next year when we emerge fully planned and ready to grow externally once again in the outside world.
It seems, to me, the perfect time to celebrate New Year.
Maybe it’s time to break habits and the cycle and look for more meaningful celebrations.
Whatever you believe, I wish you a Fantastic Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
Simon Pollard, Countryman and Modern Day Pagan.