Dec 29, 2009

The Origins of New Years

Before we get to the trivia, I have an important announcement. Those who participated in the Kissing Day Blogfest last week had so much fun that Frankie Mallis is hosting the No Kiss Blogfest on Jan 2, 2010 over on her site Frankie Writes .

To participate, write a post about the No Kiss Blogfest to let everyone know you’re participating and that they should too. Then sign up by filling in the Mr. Linky over on Frankie’s blog. Like the kissing scene, the non-kissing scene can be one from your WIP, one you just wrote, or one from a book, movie or tv show, just so long as you post it on January 2, 2010. To see Frankie’s original post and to sign up, go HERE

New Year’s Eve, or Hogmanay

There are many theories about the origin of the word Hogmanay. The Scandinavian word for the feast preceding Yule was "Hoggo-nott" while the Flemish words "hoog min dag" means "great love day". Hogmanay can also be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon, Haleg monath, Holy Month, or the Gaelic, oge maidne, new morning. But the most likely source seems to be the French. "Homme est né" or "Man is born" while in France the last day of the year when gifts were exchanged was "aguillaneuf" while in Normandy presents given at that time were "hoguignetes". Take your pick!

Historians believe that we inherited the celebration from the Vikings who paid even more attention to the passing of the shortest day. In Shetland, where the Viking influence was strongest, New Year is called Yules, from the Scandinavian word.

There are traditions before midnight such as cleaning the house on 31st December (including taking out the ashes from the fire in the days when coal fires were common). There is also the superstition to clear all your debts before "the bells" at midnight.

An integral part of the Hogmanay partying, which continues very much today, is to welcome friends and strangers, with warm hospitality and of course a kiss to wish everyone a Guid New Year. The underlying belief is to clear out the vestiges of the old year, have a clean break and welcome in a young, New Year on a happy note.

"First footing" (that is, the "first foot" in the house after midnight) is still common in Scotland. To ensure good luck for the house, the first foot should be male, dark (believed to be a throwback to the Viking days when blond strangers arriving on your doorstep.

New Year’s Day

The celebration of the new year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. In the years around 2000 BC, the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon (actually the first visible cresent) after the Vernal Equinox (first day of spring).

The beginning of spring is a logical time to start a new year. After all, it is the season of rebirth, of planting new crops, and of blossoming. January 1, on the other hand, has no astronomical nor agricultural significance. It is purely arbitrary.

The Babylonian new year celebration lasted for eleven days. Each day had its own particular mode of celebration, but it is safe to say that modern New Year's Eve festivities pale in comparison.

The Romans continued to observe the new year in late March, but their calendar was continually tampered with by various emperors so that the calendar soon became out of synchronization with the sun.

In order to set the calendar right, the Roman senate, in 153 BC, declared January 1 to be the beginning of the new year. But tampering continued until Julius Caesar, in 46 BC, established what has come to be known as the Julian Calendar. It again established January 1 as the new year. But in order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for 445 days.

Although in the first centuries AD the Romans continued celebrating the new year, the early Catholic Church condemned the festivities as paganism. But as Christianity became more widespread, the early church began having its own religious observances concurrently with many of the pagan celebrations. New Year's Day was observed as the Feast of Christ's Circumcision.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII instituted the Gregorian calendar still in use today, setting January 1 as New Year's Day.


Jamie D. said...

I'm still undecided about the no-kiss blogfest...I'm not actually sure I have a "near-kiss" scene. I could probably come up with one though, I suppose. ;-)

Interesting New Year facts - I love that feeling of starting fresh, putting the past behind and looking toward the future...

C R Ward said...

I found a "near kiss" scene in my Nano novel - I'm not sure I could come up with one otherwise.

And the New Year's fact that really tickled my funny bone is that there's still churches out there that celebrate it as the day of Christ's Circumcision. :-)