Demystifying Culture Why We Really Celebrate New Year's Day
Posted on January 01 2021
Why We Really Celebrate New Year's Day
So Sirius is highest in the sky at midnight every New Year’s. Astronomers call this a midnight culmination of Sirius. As the New Year rings in, Sirius is at its highest.
By midnight, by the way, we mean the middle of the night, that is, midway between sunset and sunrise. Like the sun, the stars rise in the east and travel westward across the sky. When the sun or any star is in the eastern half of the sky, it’s climbing upward. When the sun or any star is in the western sky, it’s descending downward. Midway between rising and setting, the sun or any star reaches its highest point in the sky.
Because the stars rise and set two hours earlier with each passing month, Sirius will be highest up for the night around 10 p.m. local time on February 1.
Ancient Roman Celebration of Janus
The Roman New Year also originally corresponded with the vernal equinox. The early Roman calendar consisted of 10 months and 304 days, with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox. According to tradition, the calendar was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C. However, over the centuries, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. the emperor Julius Caesar decided to solve the problem by consulting with the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of his time. He introduced the Julian calendar, a solar-based calendar which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.
As part of his reform, Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honour the month’s namesake: Janus, the Roman god of change and beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future. This idea became tied to the concept of transition from one year to the next.
Romans would celebrate January 1st by offering sacrifices to Janus in the hope of gaining good fortune for the New Year, decorating their homes with laurel branches and attending raucous parties. This day was seen as setting the stage for the next twelve months, and it was common for friends and neighbours to make a positive start to the year by exchanging well wishes and gifts of figs and honey with one another.
Middle Ages: January 1st Abolished
In medieval Europe, however, the celebrations accompanying the New Year were considered pagan and unchristian-like, and in 567 AD the Council of Tours abolished January 1st as the beginning of the year, replacing it with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25th or March 25 th, the Feast of the Annunciation, also called “Lady Day”.
The heliacal rising (/hɪˈlaɪəkəl/, hi-LY-ə-kəl) or star rise of a star occurs annually when it briefly becomes visible above the eastern horizon at dawn just before sunrise, after it has spent a season behind the sun rendering it invisible.