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Why is the “new” year in the dreariest month of all?



Daniel Esparza - published on 01/04/18

Spring seems like a better time for renewals, but there’s something about winter that makes sense.

Unlike the Gregorian calendar, the Persian calendar celebrates the arrival of the new year in the first days of spring, around March 19 to 21, in a festivity known as Nowrooz, when days are finally as long as nights, and nature is blossoming again.

Even if Nowrooz doesn’t fall on a “fixed” date (like the Gregorian new year does), it coincides with the vernal equinox. In 2018, the Persian new year falls on March 20, for instance. So it only seems logical that the new year coincides with spring, the season of renewal par excellence. Right?

The history of the Gregorian and Julian calendars aside (Elahe Izadi wrote a fascinating article on the matter for the Washington Post), the fact is that the standard Western new year’s eve seems to be a “naturally” bad date for new beginnings. Why should we “start over” when the rest of nature is “on hold”?

This may not have been (at all) the intention behind those creative Romans who came up with the idea of a cycle beginning on January 1, but there is something interesting about “beginning anew” in the midst of the harshest of conditions. On one hand, it seems to emphasize the difference between human life and the rest of nature: that there is some unique specificity regarding what is distinctively human that allows for a certain independence from “cosmic time” and, hence, for a renewal of human drive in the midst of difficulties.

Also, celebrating renewal during the “dead-est” cycle of the year might be thought of as a matter of hope. When nights are long and conditions are averse, renewal is not only possible but, moreover, it is already at work, even if we cannot see it. Celebrating the beginning of the new year on January 1 is, even if tangentially, a celebration of hope, as life continues (and thrives!) in spite of all contrarieties.

That’s basically the reason why we make new year’s resolutions: because even if we’re certainly not there yet, hope tells us we can get there.

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