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On the first of January, the Romans sent New Year gifts to each other, which were supposed to bring good luck throughout the year. On what is now the Christian "Epiphany" (January 6), Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of ecstasy and the "age-old ram," was born. The baby Dionysus, crowned with ivy and riding a ram, jumps over the threshold into our reality and toasts the world. (This baby Dionysus may be one of early models for the image of the New Year babe we know today.) The Church father Cement of Alexandria (140-215 CE) wrote that Dionysus's birthday was on January 6 and associated it with the birth of Jesus: "The birth of God happened with a lot of Dionysian wonders, such as the changing of water into wine." On the same day, the Christian feast of Epiphany celebrates the event in which Jesus changed water into wine at the wedding at Cana.

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Janus, the "God of Beginnings," with one face looking backward and one looking forward, serves as an image of the paradoxical theme for the New Year musical essay: in order to move forward, one must go backward. In other words, one must go "way, way back" in time to the mythic "the time of the beginning" (illo temore ab origine) in order to begin again in rebirth.

"To cure the work of Time it is necessary to go back and find the beginning of the World." ~ Mircea Eliade

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Thematic Images for the Ancient New Year Ritual

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Babylonian New Year Akitu festival

Assyrian New Year Akitu festival

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Babylonian New Year Akitu festival

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Babylonian New Year Akitu festival

For the ancient Babylonians, when their creation myth was recited over the New Year period, the creation of cosmos out of chaos actually happened all over again. First, the world fell back into chaos, as symbolized by, for example, chaotic behavior such as orgies. Then, through the ritual reenactment, the hero-god Marduk slew the chaos monster Tiamat and created the cosmos out of her body. As part of all this, time, seen as profane by the end of the old year, was abolished, then recreated as sacred once more.

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Mesopotamian Ishtar (Inanna) New Year ritual

Thematic Images for Modern New Year Celebrations Around the World

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Chinese New Year mandala

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For information about the old Germanic celebration of "Sylvester's Eve," click on PDF file

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Ded Moroz, translated to (Grand)Father Frost, or Old Man Frost, is a legendary Slavic character that makes his rounds every New Year’s Eve. Along with his companion, Snegurochka, he brings delight to children as the two provide the little ones with gifts.

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Many Native American tribes celebrate the New Year with dances as part of their great Winter Solstice ceremonies. For them, the New Year traditionally falls on the Winter Solstice day. This commemoration parallels the universal observance of the Winter Solstice by ancient indigenous European peoples (as discussed in the GS’s previous Winter Solstice season musical essays).

For detailed information on Native American New Year Commemorations, click on PDF file

Memes of New Year Celebrations for Calendars Around the World

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Egyptian ancient calendar for today

In order to understand how the Western world came to celebrate the New Year on January 1, it may be useful to summarize the calendrical history of this date with some basic facts about the lunar and solar calendars of the ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans.

For a brief history of the dating for the New Year, click on PDF file

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The Gypsy Scholar presents:

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The Argument-in-Song Behind the Orphic Essay-with-Soundtrack series,
“The New Year & Rebirth In Archaic Myth & Ritual”

According to Prof. Mircea Eliade, archaic and traditional societies had a profound need to regenerate themselves periodically through the annulment of profane time and enter into “mythic time” (the time of the gods, heroes, and ancestors). Archaic and traditional peoples periodically sought, through ritual “archetypes and repetition,” to abolish profane time and thus regenerate the sacred “time of the beginning” (in illo tempore, ab origine) or “those days” (illud tempus: the mythical time before time; time now and always) in their sacred New Year rituals. Eliade holds out the possibility that we modern people may come to see that the archaic “thirst for being,” which manifests as a “nostalgia for beginnings,” is still alive within us today and lies at the bottom of the need to participate in our contemporary secular New Year’s “profane rejoicings.” This, I believe, is what is behind our secular/profane New Year’s ritual. In other words (or lyrics): 

"Behind the ritual, behind the ritual
You find the spiritual, you find the spiritual ...
Behind the rite, behind the ritual
Drinking that wine making time in the days gone by ...."
~ Van Morrison, 'Behind the Ritual'

See images below for what's really "behind the ritual" of our secular/profane New Year observance—rebirth and transcendence.