Fireworks, football, family, friends. A cup of kindness for auld lang syne. How and why do we celebrate the arrival of the new year? And why at such an inauspicious time of year? Ancient Mesopotamian cultures observed the year’s beginning around the time of the spring or fall equinoxes. And although in the year 153 BCE the Roman empire declared the start of the new year on January 1, that date didn’t stick once the empire dissolved. For most of the medieval age, western Europe celebrated it in March. It wasn’t until 1582 that the current calendar, established under Pope Gregory, came into official use and that January 1 again became New Year’s Day.
The timing of a new year celebration makes more sense either at harvest time - as in the Jewish calendar - or in the spring, as a way of marking the end of winter and the arrival of a new planting season. The new year was a time to honor and propitiate the gods of planting and fertility. Today it is still an occasion to observe customs that bring luck and prosperity, to celebrate with family and friends, and to offer our goodwill with a “happy new year” to all. It is a time, in most cultures, to make a lot of noise.
In the Philippines, people wear polka dots and gather twelve round fruits to bring luck and prosperity. Some say it is unlucky to be away from home at the start of a new year in a new house, and my Filipina daughter-in-law made sure they were home by midnight this year.
The new year’s arrival can also invite reflection, a bit of respite after a busy holiday season, and a time to set intentions about making a fresh start, in small ways or larger ones.
Our intentions as a community are partially expressed in the mission statement the congregation adopted in 2009, which invites us to support and challenge one another, and to work for a better world. May we go forward into 2024 with hope, and in celebration of the life we share together.