Celebrating the new year is very popular around the world. People throw cute parties, spend time with their families, watch the ball drop in Times Square, craft their new goals and resolutions for the upcoming year. However, as my family and I learned more about keeping the commandments of God we started to ask the question, “should Hebrews celebrate the Gregorian New Year in the same way as the rest of the world?” “ Should we celebrate the New Year at all?”
My family never really celebrated the new year. We always prayed the new year in during Watchnight services and ate snacks – chips, cheesecake, and pop were always a fun staple! When I was younger I was a little sad because we couldn’t watch the ball drop in Times Square during our time zone, but I eventually got over it.
However, even though we never really celebrated the new year, as we learned more about the High Holidays, we stopped our mini celebration of the Gregorian new year. Our reasoning behind this was – we didn’t want to spend time on holidays that were man-made and were without any real meaning, holidays that were not the High Holidays. Instead, we wanted to focus all our energy on celebrating the Holidays that God commanded us to celebrate.
The Gregorian calendar that we use today has undergone many changes over the centuries. It was based on the ancient Babylonian calendar, then the ancient Egyptians, which was then changed by the Romans and Popes to be the calendar we have today. In the same way, the calendar has changed many times, the date and the celebration of the New Year have changed as well. Each civilization had a time set aside to celebrate the start of a new year.
Many of the traditions and celebrations that we celebrate today were traditions and customs adopted by these ancient civilizations. Customs such as throwing elaborate parties and parades, self-introspection and reflections, eating specific foods, sending well wishes, and having non-work or minimal work days, were all common during this time. Another common theme was the celebration of false gods. The Ancient Babylonians and Romans each held a festival in honor of their gods during this time.
Let’s look at these ancient festivals and traditions as well as when the true Biblcal New year occurs.
Ancient Babylon – New Year’s History, Celebrations, and Traditions
The ancient Babylonians celebrated the new year in the spring in a huge festival in honor of their chief god.
“Akitu” or “Akitum” meaning barley-sowing or head of the year was a spring festival in ancient Mesopotamia held by the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians. This festival marked when the barley was harvested, the beginning of the new year, and it was a time to honor their god – Marduk (Wikipedia “Akitu“).
The ancient Babylonians celebrated the new year on the first new moon after the vernal equinox, usually in late March. This was a time for the ancient Babylonians to honor the rebirth of the natural world with a festival called Akitu, this festival dates back to 2000 B.C. During this festival, statues of the Babylonian gods were paraded throughout the city, and rituals were performed that were believed to symbolically cleanse the world and prepare the world for a new year and the return of spring (History “Ancient New Years“).
The festival of Akitu was celebrated in the Neo Assyrian Empire following the fall of the Babylonian empire, in the Seleucid empire and finally in the Roman Empire introduced by emperor Elagabalus (A.D. 218 – 222) (Wikipedia “Akitu“).
Ancient Rome – New Year’s History, Celebrations, and Traditions
Like the ancient Babylonians before them, the Roman calendar originally corresponded with the vernal equinox. The early Roman calendar designated March 1st as the beginning of the new year. Over time, the new year was changed to January and became the time to inaugurate Roman consuls into power starting in 153 B.C. (Wikipedia “New Year’s Day“).
The month of January was dedicated to the Roman god Janus. The Romans were superstitious and believed that the beginning of something represented how something would end. They wanted to start this month off right because hopefully, it would lead to a good year.
Different celebrations of the Romans on this day were – a short workday, exchanging of good words and well wishes with each other, exchanging of dates, figs, honey, and coins, and offering wheat and salt offerings to the gods (Wikipedia “Janus“).
The ancient Roman god Janus was the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, doorways, passages, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces facing in opposite directions. Janus is believed to be the gatekeeper of the gates connecting Heaven and Earth and is the guardian over all the passages that are related to time and motion (Wikipedia “Janus“, “New Year’s Day“, “Janus and Juno” ).
Janus was seen as symbolically looking back at the old and at the same time looking ahead to the new. He was symbolic of the transition from one year to the next. With this idea in mind, it is very common to reflect on the previous year while looking ahead and planning for the next, in the form of resolutions, reflections, goal setting, etc (History.com “Ancient New Years“).
Making goals, resolutions, reflecting on the past year, and planning for the next is not a bad thing. However, the making of these goals and resolutions during the time that was dedicated to a false deity on a false new year is the problem.
Medieval Christendom – New Year’s History, Celebrations, and Traditions
When the Roman Empire fell, the Roman Catholic Emperors who subsequently took over were infamous for trying to blend pagan traditions with Christianity. They did this with Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and New Year’s celebrations.
Throughout Medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on a variety of days. Many such days were, December 25th to celebrate the birth of Jesus, March 1st after the Roman style, March 25th to celebrate the day the angel Gabriel told Mary she would be Christ’s mother, and on Easter Sunday. During this time, it was popular for Christians to exchange gifts, because the new year celebration fell during the twelve days of Christmas, which started on Christmas day and ran through January 6th.
Over time, the calculation systems used to calculate Easter under the Julian calendar became a problem, causing calendar drift. This caused the date of the vernal equinox to occur in late winter rather than early spring. To fix this problem, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII declared the universal usage of the Gregorian calendar, which is the calendar used today. This change made the 1st of January the date of the new year (Wikipedia “New Year’s Day“, “Pope Gregory XIII“).
One way the Anglican and Lutheran churches tried to Christianize the new year was by celebrating the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ on January 1st. This is the day to celebrate Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day of his life, if he was born on December 25th. The Roman Catholic Church also uses this day to celebrate the Virgin Mary (Wikipedia “New Year’s Day“).
As we have seen, the new year celebrations of January 1st have a history of pagan roots and traditions. They celebrate false deities and have many traditions associated with idol worship. Now let’s take a look at the true new year.
The Biblical New Year
The Biblical new year starts in the month Aviv, Abib, or Nisan, which occurs in March or April of the Gregorian calendar. During this time, barley is said to be in the Aviv stage when the seeds are full-sized, full of starch but not yet dried. The first spring High Holiday is Passover, this holiday occurs when the barley harvest begins (Wikipedia “Aviv“).
The Lord told Moses that the new year, the beginning of months, was in the Spring and started in the month of Aviv.
Shemoth ( Exodus ) 12 : 2: “This month to you the beginning of months: it is the first to you among the months of the year.”
Debarim ( Deuteronomy ) 16 : 1: “Observe the month of Abib, and keep the Passover unto the Lord thy God: for in the month of Abib the Lord thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.” KJV
Shemoth ( Exodus ) 13 : 4: “For on this day ye go forth in the month of new.” Septuagint
Shemoth ( Exodus ) 23 : 15: “Take heed to keep the feast of unleavened bread: seven days ye shall eat unleavened bread, as I charged thee at the season of the month of new, for in it thou camest out of Egypt: thou shalt no appear before me empty.” Septuagint
The month of Aviv has been called the month of Nisan since the Babylonian captivity.
Nehemiah 2 : 1: “ And it came to pass in the month Nisan of the twentieth year of King Artasastha, that the wine was before me: and I took the wine, and gave to the king: and there was not another before him.”
Esther 3 : 7: “ In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus, they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar.” KJV
Abib, Aviv, or Nisan is the first month of the Hebrew calendar, it has 30 days and corresponds to March or April. In Biblical Hebrew, Aviv means fresh or young ears, and in modern Hebrew, Aviv means spring (Biblehub.com “Aviv“, Morfix “Aviv“).
The name Nisan is Sumerian and it means first fruits. In the Babylonian Calendar, this name was Arah Nisanu meaning “the month of beginning” (Wikipedia “Nisan“).
Things that happened in this month in Biblical History
- 1 Nisan – The waters of the flood subsided from off the earth (Genesis 8: 13)
- 14 Nisan – The Feast of Passover is celebrated (Leviticus 23:5)
- 15 Nisan – Exodus from Egypt and the Feast of Unleavened Bread is celebrated (Exodus 12: 16 – 17, Leviticus 23: 6)
- Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron dies (Numbers 20:1)
- Nehemiah talked to King Arthasatha or King Artaxerxes I about returning to Israel to rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1)
God didn’t command us to celebrate the new year, but if you are going to celebrate the new year it should be the Biblical New Year! Knowing when the new year will occur is an important marker for the rest of the year, especially with regards to determining the dates of the High Holidays.
There are many things that people take into consideration when determining which calendar to use, therefore there is much debate on what calendar to use. I will link my blog post about the calendar my family and I use and a little about our thought process when we chose it.
The Gregorian New year time can be a fun time to spend time with family, have parties, and look with expectancy towards the new year. While these things aren’t inherently bad, they are traditions and customs that were associated with the celebration of false deities during this time of year. Instead of celebrating this false new year, we should observe the Biblical New Year, which occurs in the Spring. During this time we are preparing our houses, our hearts, and our minds for Passover. This is a special time that the Lord invites us to partake in. I hope you have a wonderful celebration, Shalom!