Monday, December 29, 2014

A Wonderful and Meaningful New Year

Happy New Year to everyone! My prayer is that you may experience a wonderful and meaningful 2015. 

January 1 marks the beginning of a brand new year, 2015. It also gives me an opportunity to wish all of you a wonderful and meaningful new year. But you may wonder what I mean with those words.

Wonderful is a well-known word that means "exciting wonder." Some synonyms are: amazing, astonishing, astounding, awesome, fabulous, miraculous, stunning, stupendous, sublime, surprising, marvelous. Something that is wonderful fills us with wonder.

That is indeed my wish for you this year: May the new year fill you with wonder! And may wonderful things happen to you in 2015!

Meaningful in this context may be less familiar. It means "have meaning or purpose." A few synonyms are: pregnant, revealing, significant,

That is also my wish for you: May it be a year pregnant with possibilities for you! May it reveal new things to you! And may 2015 be a significant year for you!

You realize, of course, that January 1 is a rather arbitrary date, yet it has a strong historical basis. Although it marks a new year in most parts of the world, this is not true everywhere. Other groups have alternative dates, in addition to January 1. Nor has it always been this way in the English-speaking world.

January 1 has a long tradition. It goes back to about 700 BC. The Old Roman calendar began with January and concluded with December, just like ours does.

That calendar was superseded by the Julian and, later, the Gregorian calendars. The Julian is still used in some Christian churches today, while the Gregorian is universally used for secular purposes but also religious. 

When the Julian calendar was still used in Western Europe, the start of the new year was variable: March 1, March 25, Easter, September 1 and December 25. It was not until 1752 that England and its colonies, including the American ones, fixed January 1 as New Year's Day, after many centuries of other dates.

If you are an Orthodox Christian, you may celebrate the beginning of the new year a few weeks later, on January 14 (which is January 1 on the Julian calendar), at least for the religious ceremonies. But other Orthodox people follow the Gregorian calendar, except for Lent and Easter when they join other Orthodox who follow the Julian one.

January 1 still marks the civil new year, but the celebrations are often extended over a longer period, as happened in Russia when we lived there. Many factories would close for several weeks because many of their employees would be too drunk to be able to work.

If you are Chinese, or Japanese, or Vietnamese, you will also celebrate the Lunar New Year, which can fall on any date from January 21 to February 21. In 2015 it is on February 19. The Chinese also follow a cycle of twelve years that are named after animals. 

The new year, 2015, is the Year of the Sheep. There is always a bulge in births immediately before the beginning of that year, since the Chinese believe that children born then will likely be unlucky.

Indians and other South Asians have many new year celebrations during the Northern Spring or Autumn. There are too many to mention. 

Northern Autumn is also when Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah ("head of the year"). It is a two-day celebration, which begins on the first day of Tishrei, which is the first month of the Jewish civil year, but the seventh month of the ecclesiastical year.

The Islamic New Year occurs on 1 Muharram, which can coincide with any day of the year, since Muslims have a calendar of 12 lunar months that total about 354 days, thus it takes plave approximately 11 days earlier every year in relation to the Gregorian calendar. There may even be two Muslim New Years in the same calendar year, as last happened in 2008.

We can learn from history and these other celebrations that New Year's Day on January 1, while not entirely arbitrary, has no great or lasting significance. It is a day like any other day, except that it marks the beginning of a new calendar year.

New Year's Day is a time for new beginnings. For example, we make resolutions that often do not last longer than the day itself. Nevertheless, it is not a bad habit to resolve to improve oneself, especially as a new year begins.

I again want to wish all of you a wonderful and meaningful New Year. We don't know what lies in store for us this year. We don't even know what can happen to us tomorrow. But we can trust in God. That is all that really matters.

In 2014 many children were born, but many have people also died. I lost my mother last year, You may have lost loved ones too. I won't even mention all the tragedies that took place last year. May God comfort all of us as we reflect on the past year and enter the new one.

I pray that God will protect you in the new year and provide for all your needs so that it indeed may prove to be a wonderful and meaningful year.

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