Roman God Janus in Vatican Museum
Does God begin His new year on January st? If not, what is the origin of January 1st and New Year’s?
Back in 46 B.C., Julius Caesar declared that January 1st would mark the beginning of the new year. January was named after Janus, the god of gates and doors in Roman mythology. People prayed to Janus when they wanted something new in their lives (such as resolutions). Janus is normally represented with two faces, one looking to the past and the other looking to the future (the two faces also signified change that Janus would supposedly bring in, see Burchett B, Janus in Roman life and cult: a study in Roman religions, p. 15). The first day of the month of January was sacred to him.
It did not come from the Bible.
What About Resolutions?
Notice what the historian Tertullian wrote about winter celebrations, such as Saturnalia, in the late second century:
The Minervalia are as much Minerva’s, as the Saturnalia Saturn’s; Saturn’s, which must necessarily be celebrated even by little slaves at the time of the Saturnalia. New-year’s gifts likewise must be caught at, and the Septimontium kept; and all the presents of Midwinter and the feast of Dear Kinsmanship must be exacted; the schools must be wreathed with flowers; the flamens’ wives and the aediles sacrifice; the school is honoured on the appointed holy-days. The same thing takes place on an idol’s birthday; every pomp of the devil is frequented. Who will think that these things are befitting to a Christian master, unless it be he who shall think them suitable likewise to one who is not a master? (Tertullian. On Idolatry, Chapter X. Translated by S. Thelwall. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
But, however, the majority (of Christians) have by this time induced the belief in their mind that it is pardonable if at any time they do what the heathen do, for fear “the Name be blasphemed”…To live with heathens is lawful, to die with them is not. Let us live with all; let us be glad with them, out of community of nature, not of superstition. We are peers in soul, not in discipline; fellow-possessors of the world, not of error. But if we have no right of communion in matters of this kind with strangers, how far more wicked to celebrate them among brethren! Who can maintain or defend this?…By us,…the Saturnalia and New-year’s and Midwinter’s festivals and Matronalia are frequented–presents come and go–New-year’s gifts–games join their noise–banquets join their din! Oh better fidelity of the nations to their own sect, which claims no solemnity of the Christians for itself!…Not the Lord’s day, not Pentecost, even it they had known them, would they have shared with us; for they would fear lest they should seem to be Christians. We are not apprehensive lest we seem to be heathens! (Tertullian. On Idolatry, Chapter XIV. Translated by S. Thelwall. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
But “let your works shine,” saith He; but now all our shops and gates shine! You will now-a-days find more doors of heathens without lamps and laurel-wreaths than of Christians. What does the case seem to be with regard to that species (of ceremony) also? If it is an idol’s honour, without doubt an idol’s honour is idolatry. If it is for a man’s sake, let us again consider that all idolatry is for man’s sake; let us again consider that all idolatry is a worship done to men, since it is generally agreed even among their worshippers that aforetime the gods themselves of the nations were men; and so it makes no difference whether that superstitious homage be rendered to men of a former age or of this. Idolatry is condemned, not on account of the persons which are set up for worship, but on account of those its observances, which pertain to demons (Tertullian. On Idolatry, Chapter XV. Translated by S. Thelwall. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
What Tertullian seems to be saying is that observing New Year’s celebrations make Christians appear to be followers of pagan gods, and since the pagans would not intentionally celebrate days considered by many to be Christian, Christians should not celebrate days that are honored by the heathen. Specifically, he felt that those who profess Christ should not celebrate New Year’s or other pagan days, as even the observance is a form of idolatry. New Year’s was also observed in honor of the goddess Strenua/Strenia, the goddess of purification and well being. It may partially be because of her that New Year’s resolutions and vows are made.
The Bible teaches:
19 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? 20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. (1 Corinthians 10:19-20)
New Year’s clearly has demonic origins.
The Catholic Encyclopedia reports:
Christian writers and councils condemned the heathen orgies and excesses connected with the festival of the Saturnalia, which were celebrated at the beginning of the year: Tertullian blames Christians who regarded the customary presents — called strenae (Fr. étrennes) from the goddess Strenia, who presided over New Year’s Day (cf. Ovid, Fasti, 185-90) — as mere tokens of friendly intercourse (De Idol. xiv), and towards the end of the sixth century the Council of Auxerre (can. I) forbade Christians strenas diabolicas observare. The II Council of Tours held in 567 (can. 17) prescribes prayers and a Mass of expiation for New Year’s Day, adding that this is a practice long in use (patres nostri statuerunt). Dances were forbidden, and pagan crimes were to be expiated by Christian fasts (St. Augustine, Serm., cxcvii-viii in P.L., XXXVIII, 1024; Isidore of Seville, De Div. Off. Eccl., I, xli; Trullan Council, 692, can. lxii). (Tierney, John. “New Year’s Day.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 27 Dec. 2011 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11019a.htm>)
The expression strenas diabolicas observare roughly translates from Latin to “observing the new time of the Devil.” It is likely that New Year’s resolutions are related to the purification and well being attributes of the pagan goddess. So, while a Roman Catholic council forbade the devil’s new year, many nowadays observe it.
Thus although many would be surprised to learn this, the celebration of New Year’s was originally opposed by claimed “Christian writers” according to the Church of Rome. Hence, it definitely should not be considered to be an original apostolic practice or even early tradition for the Catholics of Rome.
The Feast of Circumcision?
New Year’s day did not become a holy day for the Roman Catholic Church until 487 A.D. when it was declared to be the Feast of the Circumcision (though it may have been also observed in the fourth century, but other sources suggest eighth century or later dates):
Our “New- Year’s Day, “the “Feast of the Circumcision,” was called the octave of Christmas as early as 487, AD, and was instituted by the Church to commemorate the ceremony of the Jewish law which the Saviour submitted. In the time of Numa the old Roman heathens dedicated the day to Janus, the double-faced deity…(Savage J., editor. The Manhattan and de la Salle monthly. New York Catholic Protectory, 1875 Original from the New York Public Library Digitized Jul 13, 2006, p. 2)
The Feast of the Circumcision has been observed in the Roman church since 487 and in the Anglican church since 1549. (Douglas GW, Compton HD. The American book of days: a compendium of information about holidays, festivals, notable anniversaries and Christian and Jewish holy days, with notes on other American anniversaries worthy of remembrance. H. W. Wilson Co., 1957 Original from the University of California Digitized Sep 25, 2008, p. 2)
This gave the Catholic, as well as Anglican, Church an eight-day festival with a ‘holy day’ at the beginning and the end, similar in that respect to the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34-35). It was determined that if Jesus was born on December 25th (even though he could not have been), since he was circumcised eight days later (Luke 2:21), he would have been circumcised on January 1st, hence the rationale for New Year’s being ‘the Feast of the Circumcision.’
It should be added that there is no indication in the Bible that Jesus’ circumcision should be celebrated.
So, how is New Year’s celebrated? Well customs do vary around the world. Various cultures believe that meeting with people, eating certain foods, or consuming certain drinks will help insure good luck for the year.
In the 1700s, notice a poem that was written to and about Janus from The poetical works of Jonathan Swift, Volumes 2-3, By Jonathan Swift, John Mitford, p. 120:
TO JANUS, ON NEW YEAR’S DAY, 1726.’
Two-faced Janus, god of Time!
Be my Phoebus while I rhyme;
To oblige your crony Swift,
Bring our dame a new year’s gift;
She has got but half a face;
Janus, since thou hast a brace,
To my lady once be kind;
Give her half thy face behind.
God of Time, if you be wise,
Look not with your future eyes;
What imports thy forward sight?
Well, if you could lose it quite.
Can you take delight in viewing
This poor Isle’s 2 approaching ruin,
When thy retrospection vast
Sees the glorious ages past?
Happy nation were we blind,
Or had only eyes behind!
So, some consider Janus to be the “God of Time”–but no real Christian would.
It seems, though, that Janus could have been mainly a side issue for the year to start then:
The connection between Janus and the ceremonies of January first may be still further illustrated by these lines from the Carmina Tria de Mensibus:
Hie Iani mensis sacer est: en aspice ut aris tura micent, sumant ut pia liba Lares. Annorum saeclique caput, natalis honorumpurpureos fastis qui numerat proceres.
which may mean, “This is the sacred month of January—sacred because of the ceremonies. January is the beginning of the year, because the purple-clad chiefs date their office from that month.” Although Janus is used here only as a personification of his month, yet some sanctity is reflected to the god himself from the ceremonies of the day. From the lines just quoted, it seems evident that Fastorum genitor parensque* means only, “Janus, i. e. January, is the beginning of the year, a fact to be emphasized by patriotic Romans, because the consuls assumed, or renewed, office on January first.” (Janus in Roman life and cult: a study in Roman religions … By Bessie Rebecca Burchett, p. 15)
In the US and many other Western cultures, vows called New Year’s resolutions are often made. From this authors research, while repentance is a good thing, he believes that this custom of resolutions is similar to the prayers made to Janus regarding desiring something new. According most available research, most people break their New Year’s resolutions. Hopefully they are not making them before the true God whose word says, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed–Better not to vow than to vow and not pay. Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands?” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6).
Another activity which occurs in the US and elsewhere on New Year’s is heavy drinking of alcohol. Many who go to New Year’s parties get drunk. Paul warned Christians, “Do not be drunk” (Ephesians 5:18).
Germans Call it Silvester
A reader sent me the following today:
Why on earth do Germans call New Year Silvester?
No your friend isn’t planning to ring in the New Year with someone named Sylvester instead of you. Silvester is the German name for New Year’s Eve – owing to the fourth century Pope Sylvester I. Eventually made a saint by the Catholic Church, his feast day is observed on December 31.
St. Sylvester’s day became associated with New Year’s Eve with the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the last day of the year was fixed at December 31. But despite the holiday’s Christian name, many German New Year’s traditions can be traced back to the pagan Rauhnächte practices of heathen Germanic tribes, which took place at the end of December and beginning of January.
Instead of recognizing a single day as the winter solstice, the Germanic tribes observed twelve Rauhnächte – hairy nights, so called due to the furry forms of the deep winter demons – or Rauchnächte – smoky nights, due to the practice of smoking the spirits out of one’s house on January 5. …
As in many other countries, the Germans celebrate Silvester with fireworks, champagne, and boisterous social gatherings. Making noise is key: the ruckus of fireworks, firecrackers, drums, whip-cracking and banging kitchen utensils has been driving away evil winter spirits since the days of the Germanic Teutons. One of the most famous German firework displays takes place at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Private celebrations with Böllern (firecrackers) are also common. …
The Rauhnächte were also a time when the future for the New Year could be divined. Silvester in Germany still calls for oracle traditions, which often take the form of party games. Bleigießen (lead pouring) is the most popular Silvester fortune-telling tradition. Party-goers melt small lead forms with a candle in an old spoon and pour them into cold water. The lead hardens into a shape that supposedly bears a certain meaning for the New Year. An eagle, for example, indicates career success, while a flower foretells that new friendships will develop. …
For those who go out on Silvester, good luck charms and New Year’s greetings are often exchanged. Acquaintances may give good luck charms to each other in the form of ladybugs, four-leaf clovers, horseshoes and pigs. The phrase Guten Rutsch! is another common Silvester greeting. While many Germans now use it to wish someone a good “slide” into the new year, the word Rutsch more likely comes from the Yiddish word Rosch – which means beginning or head. https://www.thelocal.de/20161230/16425
Anyway, this is NOT a Christian holiday.
God’s New Year Begins in the Spring
Is January 1st the beginning of the New Year God declared?
When speaking of the Hebrew month of Abib, which occurs around late March/early April God declared,
“This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you” (Exodus 12:2).
January 1st is not the beginning of the year for the true God, but only of certain false gods.
Now perhaps it should be mentioned that other cultures also accept that the new year begins in the Spring. And while those cultures have various non-biblical practices, it is certainly possible that because God’s year begins in the Spring that perhaps anciently these people were aware of it, and retained the correct season, but not the practices.
Not all have followed the practices of Julius Caesar (called “Julie” below):
For some thousands of years before Julie and the Roman Senate got involved, the new year was celebrated with the first edible crops of the season or the first new moon.
In much of India, Nava Varsha is celebrated in March or April, just as in the most ancient civilizations.
Sikhs celebrate Hola Mohalla in March; ditto for Persian Nowruz.
As celebrated in China and southeast Asia, Lunar New Year still has a floating date, the first day of the first lunar month. (Shore R. Pagan Party: New Year’s traditions that hail from the depths of antiquity The Vancouver Sun, Canada – Dec 26, 2008, http://www.vancouversun.com/Pagan+Party+Year+traditions+that+hail+from+depths+antiquity/1116320/story.html viewed 01/22/09)
From a biblical perspective, the new year begins in the Spring, and hence not January 1st. And it also begins with a new moon. The fact that even many non-Christian cultures realize that should make it easier for Christians to realize that they too, do not need to heed the later practices of the Romans.
Some items of related interest may include:
Is January 1st a Date for Christians Celebrate? Historical and biblical answers to this question about the world’s New Year’s day. A video of related interest is also available: God’s or Satan’s New Year?
Canadian & Philadelphian Mummers Parades: Another tie to Saturnalia In Canada there is a ’12 days of Christmas’ celebration involving Mummers. In Philadelphia, a parade is held on New Years. Does this come from the Bible or where?
Should You Observe God’s Holy Days or Demonic Holidays? This is a free pdf booklet explaining what the Bible and history shows about God’s Holy Days and popular holidays.
What Does the Catholic Church Teach About Christmas and the Holy Days? Do you know what the Catholic Church says were the original Christian holy days? Was Christmas among them?
Is There “An Annual Worship Calendar” In the Bible? This paper provides a biblical and historical critique of several articles, including one by WCG which states that this should be a local decision. What do the Holy Days of the Bible mean? Also you can click here for the calendar of Holy Days.
The Ten Commandments Reflect Love, Breaking them is Evil Some feel that the ten commandments are a burden. Is that what Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and John taught? For a more detailed discussion of the first four commandments, please see the video The Ten Commandments: Loving God. For a more detailed discussion of the last six commandments, please see: The Ten Commandments: Loving Your Neighbor. Here is a link to a related article in Mandarin Chinese 十条诫命显示爱，违反诫命的就是邪恶的
Mardi Gras: The Devil’s Carnival? Is Mardi Gras Christian? Do you know that in Bolivia the carnival/Mardi Gras time is part of a celebration known as the Devil’s Carnival? Where did it come from? There is also a related YouTube video Mardi Gras & Carnaval: Are they for Christians?
Should Christians Smoke Tobacco or Marijuana? Is smoking a sin? What does the Bible teach? What have COG leaders written? Can smokers change? What about marijuana?
Marijuana: Should a Christian Get High? There is increasing acceptance of the use of marijuana. How should Christians view this? Here is a related video titled How Should a Christian View Marijuana?
Alcohol: Blessing or Curse? This is an article from the old Good News magazine that attempts to answer this question.
Binge Drinking, Health, and the Bible Many college students and others overindulge in alcohol. Are there health risks? What does the Bible teach? A related video is also available: Binge Drinking and the Bible.
Obesity, processed foods, health risks, and the Bible Does the Bible warn about the consequences of being obese? Is overeating dangerous? Is gluttony condemned? What diseases are associated with eating too much refined foods? A related video would be Eating Right, Eating Too Much, and Prophecy.
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?
Where is the True Christian Church Today? This free online pdf booklet answers that question and includes 18 proofs, clues, and signs to identify the true vs. false Christian church. Plus 7 proofs, clues, and signs to help identify Laodicean churches. A related sermon is also available: Where is the True Christian Church? Here is a link to the booklet in the Spanish language: ¿Dónde está la verdadera Iglesia cristiana de hoy? Here is a link in the German language: WO IST DIE WAHRE CHRISTLICHE KIRCHE HEUTE? Here is a link in the French language: Où est la vraie Église Chrétienne aujourd’hui?
Continuing History of the Church of God This pdf booklet is a historical overview of the true Church of God and some of its main opponents from Acts 2 to the 21st century. Related sermon links include Continuing History of the Church of God: c. 31 to c. 300 A.D. and Continuing History of the Church of God: 4th-16th Centuries. The booklet is available in Spanish: Continuación de la Historia de la Iglesia de Dios, German: Kontinuierliche Geschichte der Kirche Gottes, and Ekegusii Omogano Bw’ekanisa Ya Nyasae Egendererete.