It seems such an arbitrary thing, this idea of the birth of a new year in mid-winter, and indeed the reason why January 1st is our year’s opening day has been lost to the mists of time. Shifting calendars through the centuries caused January 1st to not quite line up with the winter solstice (around December 21st), a day that carried seasonal significance. Most Europeans used the Roman method of dating each new year from March 15th; only in the 1600s did they begin to mark it from January 1st. Thus, New Year’s Day as we know it came about through a complex set of circumstances.
But January 1st isn’t just any day, flowing one from the next—it’s a day of new beginnings, and it holds a certain fascination for us.
We humans are attracted to the idea of rebirth, of getting second chances. The earth, of course, circles the sun, recycling itself every 365 days. Seasons come and go and come back yet again. Not surprisingly, we have based many religions on the concept of rebirth and redemption. Such a cycle necessarily requires a definite demarcation between ending and beginning. One moment we follow a certain trajectory, and next some force pushes us onto another. That force can be anything from a higher power to free will. In changing that trajectory, we aspire to a better plane, or at least a better plan. Those who believe in God say He lifts us and guides us; those who rely on free will believe reflection and choice can improve us.
When the Romans expanded the calendar from ten months to twelve, they named the first month for their god Janus, the god of the doorway, whose two faces look backward and forward as well. January, then, celebrates the threshold to new places. It sits on the cusp between one space and another, and symbolically allows us the perspective to gaze either way.
In that spirit, a reflective sentiment seizes us during the waning days of each year. We look around and take stock of the good and the bad. We assess where we might have done better and lay our plans for improvement. We pat ourselves on the back for anything we endured or did well. It’s only natural that we should go through these motions, and for all the useless resolutions we never will keep, it’s worthwhile to look ourselves in the mirror. To confront our weaknesses and strengths. To acknowledge that we are all works in progress.
Whether God, choice, or a combination of both forces shapes our next 67,000 mph trip round the sun, we can all benefit from a humble pause now and then. Where have we come from and where are we going? How can we make the best of this circuit? As 2015 unfolds, the writers here at One Year of Letters will continue to evolve, will continue to examine our faces in the mirror. We hope you will find your faces there, too.
Take our hands and stand on the threshold of all the promising explorations to come. Like Janus, we shall look backward and forward together. And then . . .
Happy New Year from Colleen
To read more letters from Colleen, click here!