New Year Eve: Remembering its values through Ancient Times and a short Catholic tradition called St Sylvester Day

As most of you know it well, everybody celebrates the New Year Eve also known as the St Sylvester day. But has any of you tried to know the link between the New Year Eve and St Sylvester? Frankly speaking, it’s only now that I thought about it and decided to do some researches early on that morning of the 01st January.

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According to that article, “Little is known about Sylvester’s life. His tenure as pope took place during the reign of the Roman emperorConstantine I. Legend claims that Sylvester played an active role in the conversion of Constantine to Christianity, buthistorians reject this tale. As Pope Sylvester witnessed the divisions between Christians caused by the rise ofArianism, a doctrine concerning the nature of Christ, he sent two representatives to the Council of Nicea. Convenedby Emperor Constantine, the Council debated and rejected Arianism. His feast day was established in 1227 by PopeGregory IX. At least one writer has suggested that his feast day was placed on December 31 for symbolic reasons.Just as December 31 ushers in a new year, so, too, did the conversion of the emperor Constantine usher in a newepoch in the history of Christianity.

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But what should  be more interesting to know is about the New Year Eve History itself. In an article retracing the history of the New Year Eve, it’s a phenomenon which appeared 2000 years BC whereas the 01st January celebration appears only as a new phenomenon: “The celebration of the new year on January 1st is a relatively new phenomenon. The earliest recording of a new year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, c. 2000 B.C. and was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox, in mid-March. A variety of other dates tied to the seasons were also used by various ancient cultures. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians began their new year with the fall equinox, and the Greeks celebrated it on the winter solstice

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There are several versions of the New Year celebration quoted in that article, but the most prominent one is about when Julius Caesar included the 01st January as the first day of the year. I was amazed to read that according to the ancient Roman Calendar before Julius Caesar’s decision, the years were made of only 10 months, starting as from the 01st of March. Then, as per that extract regarding the insertion of January the 01st, “In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar that was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman calendar, which was a lunar system that had become wildly inaccurate over the years. The Julian calendar decreed that the new year would occur with January 1, and within the Roman world, January 1 became the consistently observed start of the new year.” The 01st January celebration though, was abolished during the Middle Ages, since it was being considered as a Pagan and Unchristian celebration, and the New Year celebration then coincided together with the birth of Jesus Christ on the 25th December. But little by little, the tradition was restored and adapted through the years as a celebration separated from Christmas, by the Gregorian Calendar.

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But now, another question that I am asking myself also while writing those words: Was New Year eve celebrated in Ancient times? The answer is a medley of Yes and No. Yes, it was celebrated in Ancient times, but not in the same way as we celebrate it today, with the traditional firecrackers, huge parties until late in the night at home, in restaurants or in the streets, good food, alcohol, etc. Here is an extract of this article showing what the celebration of the New Year represents in some of the Ancient times, especially in the Babylonian era: “The earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new year’s arrival date back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox—the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness—heralded the start of a new year. They marked the occasion with a massive religious festival called Akitu (derived from the Sumerian word for barley, which was cut in the spring) that involved a different ritual on each of its 11 days. In addition to the new year, Atiku celebrated the mythical victory of the Babylonian sky god Marduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat and served an important political purpose: It was during this time that a new king was crowned or that the current ruler’s divine mandate was symbolically renewed.” And I have seen some pictures, while looking for an illustration for my blog post, revealing that the Akitu is still celebrated in some parts of the world as per demonstrated in that article.

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happy-saturnalia

But in some other parts of the world, the New Year celebration was made in different ways, either for religious purposes or as a pagan celebration, at the example of Ancient Greece and Ancient Roman Times, which were two contrasting ways of celebrating the New Year. According to that article, “In Athens, however, there was an epigraph found reading of a religious ceremony that used to take place on the beginning of the New Year, or better said on the last day of the outgoing year, which involved only a small number of people. The celebration was a sacrifice of the outgoing officials to Zeus the Savior and Athena the Savior, which aimed at ensuring the blessings and favor of the two gods for the coming new year. It was not until ancient Roman times and while Rome grew in power, that the New Year festivities began to become extremely popular. The celebration known as the Saturnalia, a time of revelings, drinking bouts, orgies and human sacrifice in honor of god Saturn, was instituted as the festival of January 1st by Julius Caesar in 46BC upon deciding to adopt the Julian calendar. The popularity of the celebration was spread in all corners of the Roman Empire and continued with minor local and time alterations to integrate in the customs of all peoples within the Empire’s boundaries, including ancient Greece.

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Now, you will find strange why I am making a history of the New Year Eve among Ancient times with the way we are celebrating it, won’t you? Did you see the picture I have inserted above that paragraph in my blog post with that quote from Mark Twain, where you do the good resolutions and after one week, send them back to hell? The way I demonstrated the history of New Year during the Ancient Times is to show you that nowadays the humanity is celebrating the New Year mostly based on the Julian Calendar adapted by Julius Caesar, and also on the Ancient Roman Empire tradition made with revelations, orgies, human sacrifices to the God Saturn, etc. In Mauritius, the tradition of animal sacrifice to celebrate the New Year still exists in several Hindu Families, where on the 02nd January, they make an animal sacrifice as a yearly promise by killing a goat and after that, preparing the goat in some special meals. That tradition is more and more lost within the years according to my personal observations as an urban Mauritian, but is still practiced within rural Hindu families of the country, who kept their traditions in the total respect. The orgies, revelations, alcohol consumption in the Roman Era are also adapted not only in Mauritius but even worldwide in several parts of the world except in Muslim countries, where public alcohol consumption is forbidden. Unfortunately, what is sad is when you see how partying heavily for the New Year brings the population into some deceitful consequences: Lots of accidents in the streets mostly caused by huge alcohol consumption, crimes, fights between people partying during revelations made again under influence of alcohol, etc. Alcohol being the worst enemy for the New Year party, during which there are no limits imposed since it’s the very last day of the year.

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But the most prominent thought I had since the New Year Eve 2016 was about the importance of wishing Happy New Year. Why to wish Happy New Year? What is the need to make some new resolutions for the forthcoming new Year, for afterwards forgetting them and going back into our old bad habits? What is the need of wishing Happy New Year to everyone, including the ones whom you blame and dislike, or those who are your worst enemies, for after this starting again to blame them for the rest of the year? Personally, even though I wished Happy New Year to some of my in-laws, to my husband, to my son and to my LinkedIn, WhatsApp and Google+ contacts, personally I am very pessimistic when it comes on the importance of the New Year wishes, which I find personally useless and hypocrite, since they have no meaning. I was captivated by an extract of that article about the meaning of Happy New Year. The first paragraph from Albert Einstein captivated me the most: “When Albert Einstein’s good friend Michele Besso died in 1955, just a few weeks before Einstein’s own death, Einstein wrote a letter to Besso’s family in which he put forward a scientist’s consolation: “This is not important. For us who are convinced physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion, however persistent.” The idea that time is an illusion is an old one, predating any Times Square ball drop or champagne celebrations. It reaches back to the days of Heraclitus and Parmenides, pre-Socratic thinkers who are staples of introductory philosophy courses. Heraclitus argued that the primary feature of the universe is that it is always changing. Parmenides, foreshadowing Einstein, countered by suggesting that there was no such thing as change. Put into modern language, Parmenides believed the universe is the set of all moments at once. The entire history of the universe simply is.” Personally, despite being religious, I fully agree with that Cartesian thesis and I disagree on wishing Happy New Year, because the cycle is still the same: people changing for the better of the worse. People taking birth and people dying. People loving and people hating. The same circus of life always going on and on. Yesterday for New Year eve, since we had a very awful New Year eve celebrated as per what I related in my previous blog post, I mentioned to my husband about the hypocrisy behind the New Year wishes. My husband replied me the sentence that could change perhaps a lot of things in the world: “The New Year resolutions are not bad. But it’s us, the humans, who are bad in general, and who make everything to turn the good New Year resolutions into unlimited deceptions and failures”. There again, my husband was right. And here is the extract of that same article, which resumes it all: 

There is, perhaps, a judicious middle position between insisting on the centrality of time and denying its existence. Something can be real—actually existing, not merely illusory—and yet not be fundamental. Scientists used to think that heat, for example, was a fluidlike substance, called “caloric,” that flowed from hot objects to colder ones. These days we know better: Heat is simply the random motions of the atoms and molecules out of which objects are made. Heat is still real, but it’s been explained at a deeper level. It emerges out of a more comprehensive understanding.

Perhaps time is like that. Someday, when the ultimate laws of physics are in our grasp, we may discover that the notion of time isn’t actually essential. Time might instead emerge to play an important role in the macroscopic world of our experience, even if it is nowhere to be found in the final Theory of Everything.

In that case, I would have no trouble saying that time is “real.” I know what it means to grow older or to celebrate an anniversary whether or not time is “fundamental.” And either way, I can still wish people a Happy New Year in good conscience

So before you think about sending your New Year wishes to other people and making some good resolutions for the New Year, think about it several times before planning them, because Happy New Year wishes and resolutions is something really powerful, but which should come from the heart and be sincere. If it’s so, then maybe we can contribute into making the world much better by doing our own part of efforts and being sincere to the ones whom we wish Happy New Year to, and to keep our promises on all the good resolutions we did for the forthcoming New Year.

So on that concluding note, Happy New Year 2017 to you all 🙂

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Author: ekasringavatar

Always be yourself unless you can be a Unicorn. Then, always be a Unicorn.

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