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January 2, 2013

Happy New Year Past and Present

Kevin E. Dayhoff

According to widespread superstition, evil spirits are frightened away by loud noise and this is why we have the tradition of using noisemakers to bring in the New Year.


Since we greet 2013 while enduring the beginning of the sixth year of an economic malaise, I suggest that we celebrate New Year’s Day by banging on our pots and pans for an extra long period of time. This economic recession has gotten really old.


The American Sentinel newspaper printed in January 8, 1898, “The New Year, 1898, was greeted in Westminster by the firing of guns and pistols, the ringing of bells and the screaming of steam whistles.” Please note that the local police don’t approve of “the firing of guns and pistols’ part of the celebrations.


Although the New Year has been celebrated since prehistoric times, it was celebrated on the vernal equinox rather than what we now consider the first of the year.


The early Roman calendar used March 1 as New Year's Day, which, if you think about it, was only logical because this is the beginning of spring and we slowly emerge from the dead of winter and there are signs of new life everywhere.


The Romans were the first to recognize New Year’s Day on January 1st. Rather than tie the day to some significant astronomical or agricultural event, in 153 BC the Romans selected it for civil reasons. It was the day after elections in which the newly elected officials assumed their positions.


During the Middle Ages, most European countries used March 25, a Christian holiday called Annunciation Day, to start the year. By 1600, many Western nations had adopted a revised calendar called the Gregorian calendar, established by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. This calendar restored January 1 as New Year's Day. Great Britain and its colonies in America adopted it in 1752. We use this calendar today.


It is important at this point to mention that there are other calendars: the Aztec, the Hindu, the lunar, and the Jewish calendars, to name a few. Asian countries follow the lunar calendar and celebrate the New Year in January or February. Diwali begins the New Year in India around October/November and Rosh Hashanah commences the Jewish New Year in late September-early October.


The Dutch celebrate New Year’s by burning their Christmas trees in the streets in big bonfires. In Spain they eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight to ensure 12 good months for the year to come.


I like grapes, but I’m betting our local town officials may not be too keen on the burning Christmas trees in the streets. I’m just saying...


For those who are curious as to the origins of other holiday traditions, the largest celebration in the world is in Times Square, New York City. Each year people gather by the hundreds of thousands and crowd into the streets of Times Square for the annual New Year’s Eve celebration.


The highlight of the Time Square celebration is the famous ball drop that begins its descent at the stroke of midnight. This famous celebration dates back to 1906 when the owners of One Times Square held a rooftop celebration to bring in the New Year.


Celtic priests of what is now England gave out branches of mistletoe, which was considered sacred.


By the 1200's, English rulers had revived the Roman custom of asking their subjects for New Year's presents. Now this is a tradition that local officials just might appreciate… Come to think of it, the ancient Persians gave New Year's gifts of eggs, which symbolized productiveness…


I said the eggs were gifted and not thrown…


English husbands gave their wives money on New Year's Day to buy pins and other articles. This custom disappeared in the 1800s. However, the term pin money still means small amounts of spending money.


It is not happenstance that the month of January was named for the Roman god, Janus, who is pictured with two heads. One looks forward, the other back, symbolizing a break between the old and new.


When I reflect upon the coming year I ponder that an optimist stays up until midnight to see in the New Year. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves. I’m an eternal optimist.


Today many of the New Year celebrations actually begin with a countdown to the New Year on the evening prior. It is customary to kiss your sweetheart when the clock strikes midnight as one of the customs of these New Year’s Eve parties. New Year Resolutions are simply another way to wish away the past in exchange for hopes of the future.


I am not in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to realize that there are many things that I would like to do better – and I shudder when I realize that the list only grows longer every year.


On January 2, 1970, the defunct Westminster newspaper, The Democratic Advocate delivered a nine-point “Holiday Message from (the Westminster) Fire Company.”


Number 6 advised: “At this time of year there's plenty of bottled Holiday cheer around, so let us quote an old saying, ‘If you drive don't drink; if you have been drinking don't drive.’”


And number 9 said: “Remember your policemen this holiday season. He is the one that has to notify the loved ones left behind if you don't heed the above warnings.”


I would like to offer a prayer for our elected officials, men, and women in uniform, police officers, teachers, and public works employees in the coming year. May the New Year bring our families and community peace and joy.


Let’s look to the new beginnings, new hopes, and new adventures of 2013.


… I’m just saying


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