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IN MY EYES: Paganic New Year

So, what’s new in New Year, fellas?

Everything is old and paganic.

January comes from the word Janus, the Roman god of doors and gateways. As the god of beginnings, he was publicly invoked on the first day of January, the month that was named for him because it began the New Year. He was invoked too at the beginning of wars, during which the doors of his temple in the Forum always stood open; when Rome was at peace, the doors were closed.

In the old Roman calendar, March 15 was the day which began the New Year. The March date had basically been considered the beginning of spring, a logical time to begin a new year. But for political and military reasons, January 1, 153 B.C. became the day to observe the beginning of the New Year. From then on, the Roman year began on January first, and has continued until this day.

Moreover, Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 BC sometimes called the Ides of March. It is now considered to be a bad day by paganic Christians.

The Roman calendar, also called the Julian calendar, was widely used throughout Western Europe, until it was revised by Aloysius Lilius, an Italian doctor, astronomer, philosopher and chronologist. The use of this reformed calendar was commanded by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 and named after him, called the Gregorian calendar, the most widely used calendar in the world today. Today, this custom of celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of the next is still called Gregorian New Year or Christian New Year.

History and theology aside, New Year’s Eve is a wonderful time for Christians to get together and celebrate the completion of another year of life, and welcome in the New Year with prayer and rejoicing. New Year’s Day is an opportunity to rest and relax, and a great time to prayerfully set goals for the year ahead.

How about Chinese New Year, fellas?

Chinese New Year is also known as Lunar New Year a celebration of the New Year in Asian communities around the world. The date of the New Year is determined by the lunar calendar, so festivities begin with the new cycle of the moon that falls between January 21 and February 19. Each year is named for one of 12 symbolic animals in sequence. The animals, in their sequential order, are the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar.

There are many legends that are part of the Chinese culture. Many of them exemplify moral lessons, not so different from Aesop and his fables. One story in particular is the story of Chinese New Year.

Long ago in the mountains, there lived a horrible demon creature named Nian. Every year, on the first day of the year, the creature would awaken and descend upon the village. He would eat all the grain and livestock. And if there were any unfortunately children stuck outside, they would disappear.

The villagers lived in fear of this beast and boarded up their houses on this night to protect their families. One year, right before this event was to occur, an old man visited the village. He turned to the villagers and asked, “Why do you fear this creature such? You are many and he is but one. Surely he could not swallow all of you.”

But the villagers remained skeptical and locked themselves up anyway. That night, Nian did not come. The old man had ridden him until dawn and the creature went back to its cave hungry. This went on for several nights until the old man revealed, “I cannot protect you forever.”

He turned out to be a god and had to return to his duties elsewhere. The villagers were terrified that once the old man left, they would once again see Nian return.

So the old man informed them, “The beast is easily scared. He does not like the color red. He fears loud noises and strange creatures. So tonight, spread red across the village. Hang red signs on every door. Make loud noises with drums, music, and fireworks. And to protect your children, give them face masks and lanterns to protect them.”

The villagers did as the old man instructed and Nian never returned again.

In Chinese, the word for New Year is Guo Nian. Literally translated, it means to “pass over Nian” or “overcome Nian”. That is exactly what the villagers did.

It has become a tradition that part of New Year’s celebration is to hang lots of red decoration in your house. Streets are filled with music, loud drums, and fireworks all day long. And special paper lanterns are made in a variety of shapes and sizes, paraded through the streets to scare off any demons that might come.

This is the legend of Chinese New Year, fellas.

But to some, New Year brings them worry.

Another year spent is another year added to their age.

I remember interviewing a 60-year old woman who was contemplating on retiring from government service. I asked for her wishes this New Year.

“New Year brings me more worries than happiness. I was born in January 2 and that means I will be 61 by then. How I wish I can turn back the wheel of time so I won’t reach my 61st birthday. I fear getting old,” she said.

New Year is new life, new hope, new opportunities, they say.

But for me, New Year is just an ordinary day. We can always celebrate New Year in our hearts everyday by thanking God for a new dawn once we wake up in the morning, thanking Him for our renewed health after coming out of illness and thanking Him more everyday for giving us our daily needs.

There are many things to thank for, fellas.

Happy New Year!

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