Randy Shore of the Vancouver Sun takes a somewhat lighthearted look at the origins of our New Years celebrations from pre-Christian antiquity.
“If your head really hurts on New Year’s Day, you could point your finger at the Babylonians who started this new year revelry nonsense. Though the ancient Romans added the idea of alcoholic excess, or at least perfected it. Julius Caesar fixed the start of the year on Jan. 1 by letting the previous year run to 445 days rather than the traditional 365. The Roman citizenry made their winter festival Saturnalia a celebration without rules. So, let’s blame the Romans. Any way you slice it, New Year’s is among the very oldest and most persistent of human celebrations.”
“Father Time, who symbolizes the passage of time and the death of the old year, is a much more complex creature. His most ancient manifestations come from India. Yama the god of death and justice is described in the Vedas and the Upanishads, making him at least 3,500 years old and probably much older. Yama maintains order in the afterworld and assigns people their reincarnations, sometimes as a richer and more powerful person, other times a cockroach. As the ruler of death and new beginnings, Yama has profoundly influenced later precursors of Father Time such as Rome’s Pluto, Chronos, the Greek god of time, and the Grim Reaper of English and northern European tradition. He is a kindly looking old fellow these days, sometimes depicted holding Baby New Year, but few mothers in the ancient world would have willingly handed their infant to such a being.”
Christian taste-makers have tried to alternately ignore and sanctify January 1st, though it has stubbornly remained an almost purely pagan hodge-podge of revelry, mirth, and joyous excess. So while many Pagans celebrate the new year at different points, I can see no harm in another festival to help turn the wheel into 2009.