C.J. Marshall: Significa: Celebrating the oldest holiday on record
When I was a kid, I asked my brother, Clint, who is two years younger than I, "What is the oldest holiday on record."
"Christmas," he replied without hesitation. "No, it's New Year's," I shot back smugly. I'm afraid when I was at that age, I was full of a lot of information that I never hesitated to share, as a demonstration of my "superior" knowledge. One of the days, I'll hopefully rid myself of that bad habit.
Anyway, Clint started to argue, but my mom backed me up, explaining that the human race has, throughout its entire recorded history, always celebrated the coming of the new year.
Marking a new year goes back as far as the human race has had a sense of the passage of time. Even the most primitive tribes, living under the most isolated of conditions, have used some method of marking events in specific periods, as opposed to saying something like "Well the flood occurred when I was a child, but that's about all I can tell you about it."
Mankind's first attempt to mark out specific extended time periods was no doubt lunar in nature. With its various cycles, lasting for a period of about 28 days apiece, the moon makes a pretty good timepiece that's available to everyone in all corners of the globe. It's been speculated, in fact, that the first "years" in recorded history, were actually in fact "months," with another "year" passing following every full moon.
Some have used this as a contention that it easily explains the fantastic ages given to a number of the biblical patriarchs listed in the Book of Genesis. When this was pointed out to me in Sunday School, I went home and divided Methuselah's age - 969 years - by 12. I was bitterly disappointed when I determined that the oldest person listed in the Bible may in fact been just over 80 solar years when he died. That's still a respectable age, of course, but it eliminates a lot of the awe and wonder about the possibility of a man actually living those number of years.
Oh well. Although there are many cultures throughout the world who celebrate New Year's at different times, the influence of Western Culture has been so great throughout the world that January 1 is noted as an important date in most countries across the globe. It was the ancient Romans who set January 1 as the beginning of the New Year. January is named after the Roman god Janus, who was the god of beginnings and transitions. As a result, he oversaw such things as gates, doors, passages, endings and time. Janus was usually depicted as having two faces, because he looks to the future and to the past - which is exactly what occurs when a new year begins and the old one ends.
One popular tradition that occurs at this time of the year is the setting down of resolutions, in which we promise ourselves that we will rid ourselves of bad habits to lead a more happy, healthy and productive lives. For example, many fitness centers experience a "spike" in the number of new people who sign up for membership, as they work to lose weight and get in shape. Others resolve to quit smoking, while some plan to perform good deeds or go on a personal crusade - all with the idea of bettering their lifestyles and hopefully becoming happier as a result. Of course, there's a big difference between planning and starting such resolutions, as opposed to finding the actual will and resolve to maintaining them until a specific goal is accomplished. I've noticed on a number of occasions, a large number of spring yard sales offering exercise equipment that was purchased at the beginning of the year. As I like to say, a New Year's resolution is like a pie crust - easily made, but too easily broken.
But Happy New Year folks, and may you all have a happy and prosperous 2014.