This Sunday is our New Year celebration. Yep, that’s right, not January 1. Our celebration is much more modest than what the world celebrates which is called the Festival of Janus. We don’t have a crystal cross descending or throngs of people watching a clock tick at the local cathedral, we have Mass.
The Festival of Janus is celebrated on the first of January. Most of the world participates in this rite whether they believe in Janus or not. Who is Janus? Janus is the god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings, endings and time in Roman mythology. In fact, the month of January is named after him. In art, he is depicted with having two heads looking in opposite directions; one looks to the future and new while the other looks to the past and old.
Celebrations included the large consumption of alcohol as well as making resolutions for the next year. Amidst the celebrating, there is the exchanging of sweet dates, honey and coins. Everyone had to celebrate for fear of Janus. If someone was found not to be participating they would have bad fortune for the next year.
When Constantine became Emperor he recognized the celebration for what it was and by law, made it a day of fasting for the Lord not feasting for Janus. Unfortunately, after his demise the pagan traditions continued. In 567, the Church, at the Second Council of Tours in France, abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. And, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII re-established January 1 as New Year’s day with his calendar reform.
This set up the Church to begin marking its year with the First Sunday of Advent. This New Year’s celebration took time for reflection and meditation since the Church was entering into a little Lent. Advent, even today, is a time of anticipation, penance and fasting. It is meant to be a time focused on making room in our hearts for the King of Kings. It is a time to enter into the silence and darkness of our hearts in order to experience the joy, jubilation and the light of Christ. The season of Christmastime is meant for carols and jubilation.
This Sunday, commit to making it a day of celebrating the new liturgical year – a year of grace and salvation. The official cult of Janus has disappeared though their liturgical rites continue with us today. Interestingly enough, Holy Mother Church encourages January 1 to pass in relative obscurity. She does not even encourage Mass or even a Holy Hour. She does encourage people to gather in silence, pray the Te Deum and then to go home in silence to get a good night sleep. Why? Eternity is a celebration. This life is a preparation for the eternal party.
One might say that the Church is being a killjoy but really she is celebrating the salvific mystery of Christ. We remember that we are but pilgrims on this earth. We glory in the fact that Jesus has invited us to join in His mission of salvation for everyone we meet. We are called to make new resolutions every evening at the beginning of Compline. We no longer have to fear what the future holds or if we will find joy and happiness in the next year. Jesus, the Lord of History, rules! In Him, the Christian cares little for the old pagan rites. They glory in their Lord and celebrate the liturgical year which is the preparation for the rhythm of eternity. So, where do you profess your allegiance? With the Christ or Janus? May the calendar year pass by in obscurity while the first Sunday of Advent fill your heart with anticipation and joy for the birth of a King.
Happy New Year!…Almost