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If Time is a Spiral, when does the Year Begin?

When does the year start? When does it end? How do we know?

The new year is upon us, at least according to the modern calendar. All over the world, people are celebrating the old year dying and the new year’s birth. Why do we celebrate the beginning of the year on January 1st?

During the reign of the Roman king Numa Pompilius, the Roman republican calendar was revised so that January replaced March as the first month. The calendar dates shifted over the years because of a miscalculation concerning leap years. When the Gregorian calendar, the modern calendar, was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, it solved the issues the previous calendar had with leap years, and also restored January 1 as the beginning of the year.

Many people, and cultures, celebrate the year beginning at many different times of the year. Some people celebrate the birth of the year as the sun returns and the days begin to grow at the Winter Solstice. When life seems to return to the world at Spring Equinox and flowers and plants emerge from the earth- a new year seems to emerge as well. Samhain (Halloween) is also often seen as the new year. As the universe began in darkness, the year is birthed in darkness.

The Wheel of the Year is always turning. The year is continually renewing itself. Time is always passing. It’s powerful to look back at the time that has passed during one rotation around the sun. We look back at our life, at our community, at our world. What has changed? What has stayed the same? What do we want to work toward in the coming year?

The new year is a good time to ritualize our intentions for the coming year. Sit at your altar, outside, or in front of a list of your intentions. Take a deep breath. What do you want to leave behind in the past year? What doesn’t serve you anymore? What are your intentions for the coming year? What will you keep alive for another year?

There are many traditions around the world for ways to ritualize bringing in blessings for the coming year. Open your doors at midnight to let the old year out and the new year in! When I was in Peru, I learned that people wear yellow underwear on New Year’s Day for good luck. Where I live in western North Carolina, many people (including me) make black eyed peas, greens, ham, and cornbread on New Year’s Day to bring in prosperity and good luck.

The turn of history has brought us the new year on January 1. It feels appropriate to me in many ways. I celebrate the 12 days of Yuletide during these days between Solstice and New Years Day. A time out of time. The new year emerges from the darkness of these long nights.

Time is a spiral- turning back to where we’ve been again and again, but not quite. Around and around, and yet things shift and change. The new year, whenever that may happen, is a good time to notice what has changed and to work on bringing in the changes we want.

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