This is the last day of the year, 2019, and here it is raining hard enough to wash away any trace of unfinished business we may have left waiting for a better day. Time to turn the page and begin anew. Yet it hardly feels new; it is still dark and Winter has barely dug in for a spell. Why is the New Year celebrated at this time of year?
Not long ago, merely hundreds of years, in the fifteenth century or so, most of Europe considered mid-March the beginning of the new year, when Spring brought a sense of renewal and burgeoning growth. But for complicated cultural reasons, a movement developed then to dig even further back into past history, to Roman times, and by the next century it was accepted that the first of January be designated as the New Year. The namesake of the month, the god Janus, had the special property of having two faces, one looking backwards into the past and one looking forward to the future. Janus acts as a hinge, the god of doorways and beginnings.
Certainly our practice of making resolutions fits well with the nature of this month: assessing where we have been and making plans for improvement and growth. Occurring soon after the Solstice, we are given a little extra boost of daylight that by the advent of the new year we can actually notice the difference and feel a surge of optimism. And, unbeknown at the time of changing the calendar style, it happens that the Earth is the closest to the sun just now as it travels on its orbit; this is called Earth’s perihelion. That’s something to celebrate!
On a recent walk—on a less rainy day—I discovered other signs of renewal that gave me hope. As a friend and I tramped through some woods she pointed out fresh buds on a beaked hazelnut bush and more buds swelling on the Indian plum bushes. These are some of the earliest blooming bushes in the Northwest; we plan to return frequently and watch their progress. The whole forest was glistening and radiant; the evergreen understory and mosses were a riot of greens to delight anyone needing a break from Winter’s grays. The trees agreed, it was a new year.
When I returned home and did a turn around my sodden garden, there too I found small signs of growth and the promise of Spring. Even on a dark day like today, the Earth is moving steadily toward more light, more hope, a chance to begin afresh—and maybe improve and seek opportunities for change we missed out on last year. With a new calendar, we are given a new Now. It’s right under our feet.