History records the origins of our secular New Year’s Day as harking back to Julius Caesar and the calendar that bears his name, developed by astronomer and mathematician Sosigenes. 1 January is nearly universally recognised as the beginning of yet another year, though other calendars are still observed in various cultures. Calendars, of whatever sort, are essentially ways of marking the passing of time, and the New Year is often regarded as a time of reflection, of remembering and pondering the realities and possibilities of the Already and the Not Yet.
On the vigil, we sing 'Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne'. Few, perhaps, know this Scots phrase, meaning, ‘old long ago.’ We remember, we sigh for the good old days, even while resolving to live better in days to come. We laugh, and kiss, and party, celebrating Time’s changing of the guard. We drink a cup o' kindness, for days of old long ago.
But while Dick Clark and ABC are still in the planning stages for the next Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, another New Year’s Day recently slipped quietly by, as it does each year, largely unnoticed by the revelers, waiting in the wings. Near the beginning of December, the Church Year began again, with the dawning of the Advent Season. The Christian Church marks the passing of time by remembering the Days of Redemptive History: the life of Christ. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Palm Sunday, Easter, Pentecost, the Ascension—we pass from waiting to fulfillment, from sorrow to sorrow and joy to joy. The mourning of Tenebrae on Good Friday is shattered by the trumpet blasts of triumphant rejoicing on Resurrection Sunday. We remember the Trinity, Christ the King, the Holy Innocents. We repent during the Lenten Season and feast during the Christmas season.
A friend of mine says the Church Calendar should always be at war with that of the unbelieving world, at least until the former shapes the latter. In other words, the Church should always hold to its own days, while observing civic holidays only after consideration, and then, perhaps, not even on the same days: he even suggested that perhaps we should always observe alternate days—Thanksgiving on Friday, for instance—to make the point that the Church is not subject to the State in such matters. Others say that the Church Year is only tradition, and not required by Scripture. Though this is true, the example of a liturgical calendar can still be found in the pages of Holy Writ, while Jesus Himself attended religious festivals not required by the Law.
But wherever a church finds itself on this spectrum of opinion, it is certainly true that for Christians—wary of mere tradition, but never afraid of it—the more important New Year should be obvious, though I am not saying it is a sin to hang a January-December calendar on the wall (for the sake of convenience, if nothing else; we’re not yet to the point where you can call your doctor to see if he has anything open the second Tuesday after Trinity). Surely even those whose churches don’t observe the Church Calendar can see the contrast between the two ways of marking time: Sosigenes’ mathematical divisions of days—or the events of the life and work of Jesus. ‘Thirty days hath September,’ or the birth, life, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Messiah—great deeds in days of Auld Lang Syne.
Happy New Year.