When I was young the Catholic name for New Year’s Day was the “Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord.” With teachers having trouble explaining that to little girls, the Church switched to calling New years Day “The Octave Day of the Nativity.” But, then, the Church gave up on celebrating octaves.
That had them settling on calling it “The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.” Seeing that we have a Gospel in which Mary reflects on everything in her heart, naming the feast for her motherhood seems like a good idea. However, as Catholics we have always been proud of the deep roots of our liturgies, so we don’t like our feasts taking on new names.
We should notice that New years is celebrated by all nations and peoples. It might not hurt us to be in step with the rest of the world. Now, what all other people celebrate at New Years is the creation of the word. Why shouldn’t we too celebrate that?
But when those other people celebrate creation, they don’t commemorate the powers of heaven’s making everything out of empty space. Rather, they believe that there was always chaos there, and creation consisted in heaven bringing order out of the original chaos. That might sound foreign to us, but actually our Bible starts in the same way. The opening line of Genesis is “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth the earth was a formless wasteland.” The original Hebrew for “formless wasteland” was tohu-bohu which sounds like clothes being flung around in a dryer.
An odd thing about the New Years celebration for all primitive peoples is that it consists in acting out their own creation myths. All those people believe that heaven showered the world with blessings on the day of creation. Their myths follow that up with the story of how the first people did something awful, which is their version of eating the forbidden fruit. That caused the gods to run away, wanting to have nothing more to do with sinful peoples.
Primitive peoples act out their creation myths to make the gods think they are back at the beginning when people were innocent. They try to trick the gods into coming back, to once again shower the world with blessings.
Our wild New Year’s Eve parties are a holdover from the legends that saw the world in chaos up to the moment the gods brought order to the world.
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