By Bob Thiel
Every December 31st a celebration is began by many to ‘bring in the new year.’ It is a wildly popular holiday in Western countries. People bring in the year with parties and much fanfare.
Why is it celebrated when it is? Is this a proper holiday for Christians to celebrate? What are its fruits? Does God teach that the ‘new year’ begins on January 1st?
Why January 1st?
It was in 46 B.C. that Julius Caesar declared that January 1st would mark the beginning of the new year. January was named after Janus Bifrons, the two-headed god of beginnings, transitions, gates and doors in Roman mythology (bifrons means two-headed). People prayed to Janus when they wanted something new in their lives (such as resolutions).
Janus is normally represented with two faces, one looking to the past and the other looking to the future (the two faces also signified change the Janus would bring in, see Burchett, p. 15). The first day of the month of January was sacred to him.
The early Catholic Church not only did not celebrate a winter New’s Years observance. Tertullian (one of its leading 2nd /3rd century writers) warned that to participate in the winter celebrations made one beholding to pagan gods.
Notice what Tertullian wrote about winter celebrations, such as Saturnalia:
The Minervalia are as much Minerva’s, as the Saturnalia Saturn’s; Saturn’s, which must necessarily be celebrated even by little slaves at the time of the Saturnalia. New-year’s gifts likewise must be caught at, and the Septimontium kept; and all the presents of Midwinter and the feast of Dear Kinsmanship must be exacted; the schools must be wreathed with flowers; the flamens’ wives and the aediles sacrifice; the school is honoured on the appointed holy-days. The same thing takes place on an idol’s birthday; every pomp of the devil is frequented. Who will think that these things are befitting to a Christian master, unless it be he who shall think them suitable likewise to one who is not a master? (Tertullian. On Idolatry, Chapter X. Translated by S. Thelwall. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).
But, however, the majority (of Christians) have by this time induced the belief in their mind that it is pardonable if at any time they do what the heathen do, for fear “the Name be blasphemed”…To live with heathens is lawful, to die with them is not. Let us live with all; let us be glad with them, out of community of nature, not of superstition. We are peers in soul, not in discipline; fellow-possessors of the world, not of error. But if we have no right of communion in matters of this kind with strangers, how far more wicked to celebrate them among brethren! Who can maintain or defend this?…By us,…the Saturnalia and New-year’s and Midwinter’s festivals and Matronalia are frequented–presents come and go–New-year’s gifts–games join their noise–banquets join their din! Oh better fidelity of the nations to their own sect, which claims no solemnity of the Christians for itself!…Not the Lord’s day, not Pentecost, even it they had known them, would they have shared with us; for they would fear lest they should seem to be Christians. We are not apprehensive lest we seem to be heathens! (Tertullian. On Idolatry, Chapter XIV. Translated by S. Thelwall. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885t).
But “let your works shine,” saith He; but now all our shops and gates shine! You will now-a-days find more doors of heathens without lamps and laurel-wreaths than of Christians. What does the case seem to be with regard to that species (of ceremony) also? If it is an idol’s honour, without doubt an idol’s honour is idolatry. If it is for a man’s sake, let us again consider that all idolatry is for man’s sake; let us again consider that all idolatry is a worship done to men, since it is generally agreed even among their worshippers that aforetime the gods themselves of the nations were men; and so it makes no difference whether that superstitious homage be rendered to men of a former age or of this. Idolatry is condemned, not on account of the persons which are set up for worship, but on account of those its observances, which pertain to demons (Tertullian. On Idolatry, Chapter XV. Translated by S. Thelwall. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).
What Tertullian seems to be saying is that observing New Year’s celebrations make Christians appear to be followers of pagan gods, and since the pagans would not intentionally celebrate days considered by many to be Christian, Christians should not celebrate days that are honored by the heathen. Specifically, he felt that those who profess Christ should not celebrate New Year’s or other pagan days, as even the observance is a form of idolatry.
The Bible teaches:
9 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? 20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. (1 Corinthians 10:19-21)
New Year’s clearly has demonic origins and promotes paganism.
New Year’s was also observed in honor of the pagan goddess Strenua/Strenia, the goddess of purification and well being. It may partially be because of her that New Year’s resolutions and vows are made today.
The Catholic Encyclopedia confirmed this when it reported:
Christian writers and councils condemned the heathen orgies and excesses connected with the festival of the Saturnalia, which were celebrated at the beginning of the year: Tertullian blames Christians who regarded the customary presents — called strenae (Fr. étrennes) from the goddess Strenia, who presided over New Year’s Day (cf. Ovid, Fasti, 185-90) — as mere tokens of friendly intercourse (De Idol. xiv), and towards the end of the sixth century the Council of Auxerre (can. I) forbade Christians strenas diabolicas observare. The II Council of Tours held in 567 (can. 17) prescribes prayers and a Mass of expiation for New Year’s Day, adding that this is a practice long in use (patres nostri statuerunt). Dances were forbidden, and pagan crimes were to be expiated by Christian fasts (St. Augustine, Serm., cxcvii-viii in P.L., XXXVIII, 1024; Isidore of Seville, De Div. Off. Eccl., I, xli; Trullan Council, 692, can. lxii). (Tierney, John. “New Year’s Day.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.)
The expression strenas diabolicas observare roughly translates from Latin to English as “observing the new time of the Devil.” It is likely that New Year’s resolutions are related to the purification and well being attributes of the pagan goddess Strenia. So, while a Roman Catholic council forbade the devil’s new year, many nowadays observe it.
So Catholic sources plainly admit that the celebration of New Year’s was originally opposed by claimed “Christian writers.” Hence, observing New Year’s definitely should not be considered to be an original apostolic practice nor even early tradition for the Catholics of Rome.
The Feast of Circumcision?
New Year’s day did not officially become a holy day for the Roman Catholic Church until 487 A.D. when it was declared to be the Feast of the Circumcision (though it may have been also observed in the fourth century, but other sources suggest eighth century or later dates):
Our “New- Year’s Day, “the “Feast of the Circumcision,” was called the octave of Christmas as early as 487, AD, and was instituted by the Church to commemorate the ceremony of the Jewish law which the Saviour submitted. In the time of Numa the old Roman heathens dedicated the day to Janus, the double-faced deity…(Savage J., editor. The Manhattan and de la Salle monthly. New York Catholic Protectory, 1875, p. 2)
The Feast of the Circumcision has been observed in the Roman church since 487 and in the Anglican church since 1549. (Douglas GW, Compton HD. The American book of days: a compendium of information about holidays, festivals, notable anniversaries and Christian and Jewish holy days, with notes on other American anniversaries worthy of remembrance. H. W. Wilson Co., 1957, p. 2)
This gave the Catholic, as well as Anglican, Church an eight-day festival with a ‘holy day’ at the beginning and the end, similar in that respect to the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34-35). It was determined that if Jesus was born on December 25th (even though he could not have been), since He was circumcised eight days later (Luke 2:21), He would have been circumcised on January 1st, hence the rationale for New Year’s being ‘the Feast of the Circumcision.’
It should be added that there is no indication in the Bible that Jesus’ circumcision should be celebrated.
Actually here is the only verse in the Bible that specifically discusses Jesus’ circumcision:
21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:21).
Notice that there is no command to celebrate this date, hence it really was not an original apostolic tradition. It seems more like a compromise with non-biblical pagan-related practices. Of course, the fact that Jewish babies were not generally circumcised at midnight should show all that what is not celebrated as New Year’s at midnight really is not directly related to Jesus’ circumcision.
There is no biblical indication that people should engage in heavy drinking and loud parties the evening before to honor the fact that Jesus would be circumcised the next day. Actually, the Bible specifically warns about celebrating observances for the true God that are used for pagan gods (e.g. Jeremiah 10:2).
Since the ‘feast of the circumcision’ is tied into the date of Christ’s birth, it may be of interest to note that the Church in Rome did not even endorse Christmas until apparently the fourth century.
The World Book Encyclopedia notes:
In 354 A.D., Bishop Liberius of Rome ordered the people to celebrate on December 25. He probably chose this date because the people of Rome already observed it as the Feast of Saturn, celebrating the birthday of the sun (Sechrist E.H. Christmas. World Book Encyclopedia, Volume 3. Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, Chicago, 1966, pp. 408-417).
History indicates that December 25th was apparently chosen because of pagan worship practices and that the circumcision of Jesus was not on January 1st. There is no biblical reason that January 1st should not be celebrated by Christians.
Actually, when the Roman Church originally endorsed the celebration of New Year’s, it was hoped that it would stop the drinking and wild parties, but it did not.
In recent times, I have not seen much condemnation of these practices by any Roman leaders, which one would expect since perhaps most of their members participate in the types of New Year’s celebrations that the Roman Church originally condemned.
That various older Roman Catholic writings show a connection between New Year’s celebrations ancient pagan observances:
Even in our own day the secular features of the opening of the New Year interfere with the religious observance of the Circumcision, and tend to make a mere holiday of that which should have the sacred character of a Holy Day. St. Augustine points out the difference between the pagan and the Christian manner of celebrating the day: pagan feasting and excesses were to be expiated by Christian fasting and prayer (P. L., XXXVIII, 1024 sqq.; Serm. cxcvii, cxcviii) (Tierney John J. Transcribed by Wm Stuart French, Jr. Feast of the Circumcision. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III. Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
Christians should not adopt pagan practices (1 Corinthians 10:17; Deuteronomy 12:29-32).
Janus: The God of Time?
So, how is New Year’s celebrated?
Well customs do vary around the world. Various cultures believe that meeting with people, eating certain foods, or consuming certain drinks will help insure good luck for the year.
In the 1700s, notice a poem that was written to and about Janus from The poetical works of Jonathan Swift, Volumes 2-3, By Jonathan Swift, John Mitford, p. 120:
TO JANUS, ON NEW YEAR’S DAY, 1726.’
Two-faced Janus, god of Time!
Be my Phoebus while I rhyme;
To oblige your crony Swift,
Bring our dame a new year’s gift;
She has got but half a face;
Janus, since thou hast a brace,
To my lady once be kind;
Give her half thy face behind.
God of Time, if you be wise,
Look not with your future eyes;
What imports thy forward sight?
Well, if you could lose it quite.
Can you take delight in viewing
This poor Isle’s 2 approaching ruin,
When thy retrospection vast
Sees the glorious ages past?
Happy nation were we blind,
Or had only eyes behind!
So, some consider Janus to be the “God of Time”–but no real Christian would.
It seems, though, that Janus could have been mainly a side issue for the year to start then:
The connection between Janus and the ceremonies of January first may be still further illustrated by these lines from the Carmina Tria de Mensibus:
Hie Iani mensis sacer est: en aspice ut aris tura micent, sumant ut pia liba Lares. Annorum saeclique caput, natalis honorumpurpureos fastis qui numerat proceres.
which may mean, “This is the sacred month of January—sacred because of the ceremonies. January is the beginning of the year, because the purple-clad chiefs date their office from that month.” Although Janus is used here only as a personification of his month, yet some sanctity is reflected to the god himself from the ceremonies of the day. From the lines just quoted, it seems evident that Fastorum genitor parensque* means only, “Janus, i. e. January, is the beginning of the year, a fact to be emphasized by patriotic Romans, because the consuls assumed, or renewed, office on January first.” (Janus in Roman life and cult: a study in Roman religions … By Bessie Rebecca Burchett, p. 15)
In the USA and many other Western cultures, vows called New Year’s resolutions are often made. From this authors research, while repentance is a good thing, he believes that this custom of resolutions is similar to the prayers made to Janus and other pagan deities regarding desiring something new. Notice the following:
The practice of making New Year’s resolutions can be traced back 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians who made promises to the gods at the start of each year, although for them, the new year started in March. Ancient Romans also rang in the New Year by making resolutions in March, until the New Year shifted to Jan.1 sometime around 300 B.C..
The ancient tradition continues in America where approximately 4 out of every 10 adults in the United States expect to make New Year’s resolutions. (Mekouar DH. Americans Worry About Waistlines & Wallets. Voice of America, December 31, 2014/)
According most available research, most people break their New Year’s resolutions. Hopefully they are not making them before the true God whose word says:
4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed—5 Better not to vow than to vow and not pay. 6 Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands? (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6).
Many who claim to be Christian make New Year’s or other vows, but do not fulfil them.
Another activity which occurs in the USA and elsewhere on New Year’s is heavy drinking of alcohol. Many who go to New Year’s parties get drunk. Although the Bible allows alcohol (cf. 1 Timothy 5:23), Paul warned Christians, “Do not be drunk” (Ephesians 5:18).
While there are many origins for an eight-day festival celebrated at the end of December and running into the first part of January, there is at least one of biblical interest.
After the death of Solomon, 10 tribes of Israel split from Rehoboam’s kingdom and followed Jeroboam. Jeroboam feared that if his subjects still kept the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, that they eventually may kill him and turn back to Rehoboam (1Kings 12:26-27), so “Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, (held in the seventh month of God’s calendar) and offered sacrifices on the altar (vs. 34). God was opposed to this (1 Kings 13:1-3).
Now the earliest Roman calendar had 10 months. Julius Caesar made it a 12 month calendar by adding 2 additional months. However, he did not add them in at the end of the year, but at other times. This is why, even though the Latin names of the months would suggest that September, October, November, and December should be the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th months respectively, they are now instead the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th. God’s Feast of Tabernacles usually begins near late September each year (the precise Roman calendar date varies based upon the fact that it is calculated based upon a lunar, not strictly solar, calendar). Jeroboam’s original festival thus began around the end of October. However, when two additional months were added to the Roman calendar, it is quite possible that this man-made eight-day holiday was moved to the end of December.
What Bible-believing person would want to participate in Jeroboam’s perversion of God’s Feast of Tabernacles? Yet, many who profess Christ do so.
Notice some crime reports in the USA related to New Year’s:
Experts are warning Americans of a crime that goes hand in hand with the start of a new year. According to a new report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, New Year’s Day is the most popular holiday for car thefts.
Residents are being urged to secure their homes to deter burglars who target empty properties on New Year’s Eve. “Burglars expect people to be more relaxed and less cautious during the holiday season and take advantage of homes being empty as people see in the New Year with friends and family.”
While criminals could pick another time, I thought those who still decide to keep New Year’s, despite its origins might wish to consider additional precautions against crimes like the above.
God’s New Year Begins in the Spring
Is January 1st the beginning of the New Year God declared?
When speaking of the Hebrew month of Abib, which occurs around late March/early April God declared:
2 This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. (Exodus 12:2)
January 1st is not the beginning of the year for the true God, but only of certain false gods.
Now perhaps it should be mentioned that other cultures also accept that the new year begins in the Spring. And while those cultures have various non-biblical practices, it is certainly possible that because God’s year begins in the Spring that perhaps anciently these people were aware of it, and retained the correct season, but added improper practices.
Not all have followed the practices of Julius Caesar (called “Julie” below):
For some thousands of years before Julie and the Roman Senate got involved, the new year was celebrated with the first edible crops of the season or the first new moon.
In much of India, Nava Varsha is celebrated in March or April, just as in the most ancient civilizations.
Sikhs celebrate Hola Mohalla in March; ditto for Persian Nowruz.
As celebrated in China and southeast Asia, Lunar New Year still has a floating date, the first day of the first lunar month. (Shore R. Pagan Party: New Year’s traditions that hail from the depths of antiquity The Vancouver Sun, Canada – Dec 26, 2008)
From a biblical perspective, the new year begins in the Spring, and therefore not January 1st. And it also begins with a new moon. The fact that even many non-Christian cultures realized that should make it easier for Christians to realize that they too, do not need to heed the later practices of the Romans.
How Does God Determine Seasons?
How does God determine seasons?
Notice what the Bible shows that God declared in Genesis:
14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17 God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:14-18)
Hence, the movement of the moon and the sun were important to mark the religious seasons for those wishing to follow the God of the Bible. Days such as January 1 are not part of the way that God marked time for the seasons.
It should be noted that the Hebrew word transliterated as mowed`, but translated as “seasons” in Genesis 1:14 likely refers to religious seasons.
OT:4150 mowed` (mo-ade’); or moed` (mo-ade’); or (feminine) mow`adah (2 Chronicles 8:13) (mo-aw-daw’); from OT:3259; properly, an appointment, i.e. a fixed time or season; specifically, a festival; conventionally a year; by implication, an assembly (as convened for a definite purpose); technically the congregation; by extension, the place of meeting; also a signal (as appointed beforehand) (Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
This can also be verified by noting that the same word mowed` (Strong’s 4150) is used four times in the following two passages and the KJV English translation for them will be bolded below:
2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts… 4 These are the feasts of the Lord, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons. (Leviticus 23:2,4, KJV)
There are also many other passages in the Old Testament that support this understanding. Yet, most people are unaware of the connections between the creation and God’s plan for holy day seasons. And because most do not, they do not keep God’s Holy Days, nor understand many aspects of the plan of salvation that they depict.
The new moons were brought in with a trumpet in ancient Israel:
3 Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon,
At the full moon, on our solemn feast day.
4 For this is a statute for Israel (Psalms 81:3-4, NKJV)
The biblical Feast of Trumpets begins on a new moon (Leviticus 23:24), and the First Day of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6) and the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34) begin on a full moon.
January 1st is only a new moon about once every 29 years.
Activities Like Many New Year’s Parties Are Condemned in the Bible
Notice that the Bible condemns various activities associated with New Year’s parties:
12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Romans 13:12-14)
20 Do not mix with winebibbers, Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;Â 21 For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags. (Proverbs 23:20-21)
1 Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, Whose glorious beauty is a fading flower Which is at the head of the verdant valleys, To those who are overcome with wine!Â 2 Behold, the Lord has a mighty and strong one, Like a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, Like a flood of mighty waters overflowing, Who will bring them down to the earth with His hand. 3 The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, Will be trampled underfoot; (Isaiah 28:1-3)
18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation (Ephesians 5:18)
A night of drunken revelry is not a Christian holiday and should not be observed by the faithful.
The partying drunkard is also specifically condemned as part of those that will not inherit the kingdom of God:
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Christians should not participate in pagan holidays, and especially those that involve drunken revelries.
Those who are Christians and used to do those things are expected to repent:
3 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles â€” when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. 4 In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. (1 Peter 4:3-4)
11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner â€” not even to eat with such a person. (1 Corinthians 5:11)
The fact that professors of Christ ignore clear scriptures causes a false version of “the Way” to be discounted by the Gentiles (Romans 2:24).
Humans cannot bring in the new year.
Christians should not celebrate the holiday of Janus even if it is also called ‘the feast of the circumcision’.
January 1st is not a date for Christians to celebrate. Even Roman Catholic writers acknowledge that historical and modern practices of observing it are wrong.
New Year’s resolutions were apparently originally made to pagan deities. Although the practice was condemned by certain Catholic leaders, many condone the practice today.
Much associated with the January 1st New Year’s Day is pagan and not appropriate for real Christians.
Most historical references that are uncited are from The World Book Encyclopedia, 50th edition, 1966.