Seeing the old year out and the new year in
Written by Reg Wright
At this time of the year – Christmas and New Year -- celebrations are in full swing. School is out and it’s time for vacations, family gatherings, the giving of presents, BBQs in the back yard, and the traditional Christmas dinners. It is a festive season.
1st January 2018 starts a brand new year – in our present Gregorian calendar. In many cities and towns, on New Years’ eve the countdown to midnight for the start of the New Year is celebrated with a display of fireworks. At various vantage points people gather to observe the bursting lights in the sky, and welcome the new year in with cheering and applause (and perhaps a few drinks as well).
The calendar is the time keeper for what we do in life. We have clocks and watches to remind us of the time. Our mobile phones, iPads, computers and laptops all display what time it is. Buses, trains and planes follow established time tables. We start work – on time. We knock off work – on time. We have appointments to keep – on time. We go to bed and rise in the morning – on time. And we see the old year out, and the new year in – on time.
But do we ever stop to give consideration as to how time began? For the Christian, whose foundation of belief is the Bible, we believe God created time. He provides us with this insight to the ordering of time for our solar system and, in particular, our home in the universe, in the very first chapter of the Book of Genesis.
Genesis 1: 14-15: Then God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; "and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so (emphasis added).
The lights mentioned in these verses are the sun and the moon – the greater light (the Sun) to rule the day, and the lesser light (the Moon) to rule the night (Gen.1:16).
A day is one rotation of the Earth upon its axis and takes approximately 24 hours – 12 hours daylight and 12 hours darkness. A month which is approximately 30 days is one complete orbit of the Moon around the Earth. A year which is approximately 365 days is one complete orbit of the Earth around the Sun. And there are approximately 12 months in a year.
With these three elements in place – a day, a month and a year – we can keep track of time. The time may be 12 noon, on a given day of a particular month, in a particular year.
In different eras of time, various calendars, based on the movement of the Earth around the Sun, and the Moon around the Earth, have been established. Most have been, or are, humanly devised calendars but there is one calendar in particular which God ordained.
At the time God was delivering ancient Israel from bondage in Egypt, He revealed to Israel’s leader, Moses, which month was to be “the beginning of months” – the first month of the yearly cycle of the Earth around the Sun.
EXODUS 12:1-2, "Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, "This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you” (emphasis added).
“This month” was the month Abib in the calendar that Moses had at that time. It is today referred to as the “Hebrew” calendar as the children of Israel are also called Hebrews.
This was an extraordinary revelation by God and it had great purpose. The first day of Abib began a new year (it shall be the first month of the year to you) so that the Eternal’s designated annual festivals or holy days could then be observed at the time of the year that He specified. These annual festivals are listed in Leviticus chapter 23 and, when rightly understood, reveal God’s plan of salvation embracing each and every human being that has lived, is now living, and who will yet live.
The month Abib (or Nisan) in the Hebrew calendar occurs in the spring (in the Northern Hemisphere) and matches our March/April months in our present Gregorian calendar.
This is significantly different to the first day of the new year starting 1st January in our present day Gregorian calendar – occurring, not in spring, but in the winter.
1st January as New Years’ Day in our Gregorian calendar was chosen by men, not for the purpose of observing God’s annual festivals, but for other reasons.
When we examine the earliest days of the Church Jesus built – that is, during the first and second centuries after Christ ascended into heaven – we don’t find any record of such celebrations of Christmas and New Year. Those celebrations came later.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia states: “According to the hypothesis . . . accepted by most scholars today, the birth of Christ was assigned the date of the winter solstice (December 25 in the Julian [Roman] Calendar, January 6 in the Egyptian), because on this day, as the sun began to return to northern skies, the pagan devotees of Mithra celebrated dies natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the invincible sun)” (1967, Vol. 3, p. 656) (emphasis added).
The observance of Christmas (with its many traditions and practices steeped in paganism and mythology), and the “birth” of the “new year” of the invincible sun are linked. This is why the Gregorian calendar in use today designates January 1 as the beginning of the new year as it is a continuation of the non-Christian Mithra celebrations.
When Julius Caesar was in power the Romans had a god named Janus. Apparently he was the god of doors and gates and had two faces – one looking forward and one looking back. Julius Caesar thought it would be appropriate for January (named after Janus) to be the doorway to a new year, and when he created the Julian calendar, he made January 1 the first day of the new year. It took time for this positioning of January 1 as the first day of the new year to be adopted by nations around the world but today its observance is widely accepted.
Most people are not aware of the origin of New Year celebrations and enjoy the passing of the old year and welcoming in the new year simply as a tradition and an opportunity to celebrate with family and friends.
Because we live in this secular society and most of the world operates according to the commonly used Gregorian calendar, it’s usual to think of a new calendar year as beginning January 1 and as a public holiday. The religious connection is not part of the thinking of most people as they say goodbye to the year that has past and welcome the new year in.
For us, who seek to follow the teachings of the Bible, being involved in celebrations which have pagan origins is not appropriate. Rather, we seek to observe and follow the teachings of our Lord and observe the festivals which He instituted.
If you would like to know more about God’s annual festivals and the plan of salvation He has for all mankind, our free booklet God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind is available in printed form, or you can access it online on this website.
And, if you would like more information about the origins of Christmas and New Year celebrations, please refer to our free booklet Holidays or Holy Days: Does it Matter Which Days We Keep?
- Tags: God's Holy Days, Holy Days, New Year's Celebrations, New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, New Years
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About the Author
Reg Wright is a retired United Church of God Elder and serves as the Personal Correspondent for the Church – answering questions from our readers and viewers on the Bible and Christian living.