A message from Ruth:
Here at Rx we’re grateful to have come through the past year relatively unscathed (if sick of lockdowns) and have remained healthy and safe. We sincerely hope that you, our clients and readers, have also weathered the year prosperously and well.
This is our first HOC article of the year, and in it Carrie explores the history of the New Year, and briefly mentions some of the actions we will need to take to keep our world in good shape. As we all look back at what occurred in 2021, and forward to the future, we wish you all the very best for a wonderful 2022. Let us all take actions that make a difference.
Here’s to January Ist 2022 and beyond
In a few short days the small Pacific Island Nations of Tonga, Samoa and Kiribati will watch their clocks turn to one second past midnight and then they will be the first to kick off an annual world-wide party that lasts for the following 14 hours ending, 24 time zones later, in the Howland and Baker Islands. In turn we will join together to celebrate what is globally agreed to be a New Year. Aside from the obvious need to celebrate anything we can globally agree on – and I’m sure most of us wish we could agree on many more things than the best time to have a good party – the questions could be, why? Why do we celebrate New Year, why is it January 1st and why does the celebration of a New Year resonate across all our diverse national communities in such a similar way?
January 1st officially became the start of a New Year in 46 B.C. when Roman Emperor Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar. Until then the Romans had celebrated their New Year with the famous Ides of March. January was chosen to honour Janus – the Roman god of beginnings, a god with two faces who could see into the past and the future at the same time. The Romans celebrated their new New Year pretty much as they had their old one with much gusto, parties and gift-giving, but they now included offerings to Janus in the hope of securing good fortune in the coming year.
In 567 A.D. when the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church met at the second Council of Tours the idea of praising Janus was just a bit too pagan for them, The Council abolished the January 1st celebrations, changing the date to coincide with December 25th instead. This was combined with the celebration of the Epiphany on January 6 – giving us the Twelve Days of Christmas. Christendom was now without a defined New Year until 1582, when the Julian calendar was reformed and much of the Western world adopted the newly created Gregorian calendar (Greece for example did not adopt the Gregorian calendar as its civil timetable until 1921). Named for Pope Gregory III, this new calendar moved on from the religious sensitivities of medieval Europe and restored the start of a New Year to January 1st.
Celebrating the coming of a New Year goes way back beyond the time of the Roman Empire. The ancient Babylonians were celebrating the arrival of a New Year over 4 000 years ago. Beginning in late March the festival of Atiku lasted 12 days and honoured both the spring barley harvest and their god of creation, Marduk. Each of the 12 days were marked by special ceremonies and observances; including atonement for the failings of the previous year as well as gratitude for blessings received and prayers for future prosperity. The start of the ancient Egyptian New Year was at the days’ long Wepet Renpet festival, when the death and rebirth of the god Osiris and annual flooding of the Nile River were celebrated. The flooding of the Nile brought fertility to the adjoining farmlands and ensured food and thus survival for another year.
Closer to us in time, Scotland very readily enjoys the longest New Year celebrations. The uniquely Scottish Hogmanay party begins on 30th December and continues until 2nd January. For this we can thank the god-fearing folk of the Scottish Reformation. Back in 1640 this crowd made the shindig in 567 look like Woodstock. They banned Christmas as a holiday, claiming it to be pagan and quite possibly Catholic! Thus, Christmas became a working day for the Scots and the celebrations of the Old Year’s night grew to be the bigger party. Thus, nearly one in five of the Scottish population may well have been breaking the letter of the law if they celebrated Christmas as a holiday in their younger days. Although the ban on Christmas was revoked in 1712 it wasn’t until 1958 that Christmas became an official holiday in Scotland again.
The unifying theme of New Year was, and is, a ritual of prayers and praise for health, wealth and happiness. It is an acknowledgement of our dependency on the Earth and the seasons for our survival. New Year resolutions are our part in this ritual, and we make the same ones over and over because we all always want the same things; health, happiness, survival. While I doubt many of us could manage up to 12 days of solid partying (although I’ve seen a more than a few on Princes Street giving it their best shot) this New Year we can see into our past and our future. As we welcome 2022 one of the most effective resolutions we could make would be to get our COVID-19 vaccines and to help ensure access to vaccines for those currently without. Meanwhile, and until everyone can be properly vaccinated, in 2022 and beyond we can protect ourselves and each other through continuing adherence to the non-pharmaceutical interventions that have already prevented countless infections and saved thousands of vulnerable lives1. Early indications are that the current vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death for the new SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant2. Vaccines do not prevent infection but they do work, they are safe, they reduce the risk of death3,4,5 – and in that those age-old New Year prayers are answered.
- Moore S et al. Vaccination and non-pharmaceutical interventions for COVID-19: a mathematical modelling study. The Lancet. June 2021 https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(21)00143-2
- World Health Organisation. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Vaccines. 28-11-2021-update- on-omicron. who.int/news
- World Health Organisation. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Vaccines. 7 October 2021. www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
- Thomas SJ et al. Safety and Efficacy of the BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine through 6 months. New England Journal of Medicine. September 2021. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2110345