Today is New Years Day, and an odd thing about this feast, is that all peoples of all religions celebrate New Years. Most of those ancient peoples follow different calendars. Korea, where I spent twelve years as a young priest, celebrates its New Years five weeks from now on our February 8. China does the same.
In celebrating New Years, most ancient peoples throughout Asia and Africa are actually celebrating the creation of the world. That’s not a bad idea. We too could use this day for thanking God for giving us this wonderful world of ours.
But when those other peoples celebrate creation, they don’t commemorate God’s making everything out of nothing. Rather, they believe that there was always wild chaos here, and creation consisted in the gods bringing order out of the original chaos.
That might sound weird to us, but out Bible actually starts out in the same way. The first sentence of the Book of Genesis says, “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 and around in a dryer.
An odd thing about the New Years celebration for all primitive peoples is that with each ancient people it consists in their acting out their own creation myth. All those people believed that heaven showered the world with blessings on the day of creation. Their myths all then follow up with a story of how the first people did something awful; the way in our creation story Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, causing God to turn away from them.
When primitive peoples dress up as animals, and then act out their creation myths, they are trying to make their gods think it is creation time again. They are trying to trick the gods into returning with the same favors they showered on mankind at creation time.
We don’t believe any of that, but it is still a good idea to make this a day when we thank God for creating out world.
Our wild New Year’s Eve parties are a holdover from those ancient legends that saw the world in chaos up to the moment the gods brought order into the world.