By Tyson Thorne

December 28, 2017

There are a lot of ways to celebrate the new year, and not all of them are beneficial. Take, for example, the ancient Babylonian practice that existed during the time of Abraham. Circa 2,000 BC, the kingdom would gather at the temple of Marduk and the king stripped of his royal attire. In order to justify his sovereign rein for another year the king would be slapped and dragged around the temple by his ears until he cried. Should the king not participate, he would be replaced. Honestly, despite the fact it was a ceremony to a false god, I think a good many world leaders today might benefit from such a practice.

I know that is something I’d like to see. Can you imagine Kim Jung Un being dragged around by the ears? That should be on pay-per-view. Regardless of how entertaining the humbling of certain world leaders might be, it doesn’t benefit anyone (except maybe the king). Before we continue discovering the traditional new year’s celebrations of the ancients, we should note that many did not take place on December 31 or January 1, as the Gregorian calendar we use today wasn’t invented until 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII improved upon the Julian Calendar (which was very similar) invented by Julius Caesar in 45 BC. Before that different cultures adhered to different calendars. So for the early Babylonians, New Year’s was celebrated in March. Spring was the beginning of their new year.

The Egyptians celebrated Wepet Renpet, meaning “opening of the year”. This was timed with the motion of the star Sirius (not the satellite radio company) and the rising of the Nile River, which typically occurs around mid-July. Their culture was kinder to their rulers and looks a lot like the modern Western world’s idea of a celebration – lots of booze, food and dancing. I know more than a few people who would give their “Festival of Drunkenness” a run for its money. While festive, it’s hardly beneficial for anyone concerned with personal righteousness.

The Romans started out celebrating the new year in Spring as well, but that all started to change as they studied astronomy and strived to come up with a more accurate calendar – one that used decidedly fewer leap days to correct it. Eventually the month of January, named after the Roman god Janus, became the first month of the year and we have celebrated new year’s on January 1 ever since. They believed in giving gifts to the gods, and to each other (honey and figs), believing such good will would be extended to them throughout the year. They also worked part of the day, believing that too would translate into an efficient omen for the rest of the year. All in all, a very sedate celebration – unusual for Romans.

Among the ancient civilizations, few took the new year more seriously than the Israelites. Today it is called Rosh Hashanah (meaning “head of the year”), but in the Bible it is named Yom Teruah (Leviticus 23.24-25) and means “day of the sounding of the shofar”. I bet you can already guess what one of the events was. Taking place on the first of Tishri (usually occurring sometime in September) they celebrated by eating apples with honey. But the festivities were short lived even if the holiday lasted almost two weeks. Rosh Hashanah is a time spent reflecting on the sins and mistakes made over the last year, leading to a time of repentance on Yom Kippur ten days later. These ten days are called the “Days of Awe” as the people would, after identifying their wrongs, make plans to avoid the same mistakes and to become more successful in their family, business and personal lives.

Perhaps this year is time to start a new tradition for the new year. Rather than celebrating with food and drink or even work, a time of peaceful reflection and planning is in order.

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