Man is an intelligent being and for centuries, lots of topics have been debated amongst intellectuals before and after the Age of Reason or Enlightenment up to this day. The act of debate, analysis, scrutiny, fact-finding may be better understood from Giovani Pico Della Mirandola’s, “Oration on the Dignity of Man”. While his view is subject to debate, especially ‘predestination’, his view that, it was free will that made human beings the most wondrous of all creations is important to answering an important question that if not answered, the purpose of this intellectual piece of writing may be defeated. He sets humans apart from animals in that they have the ability to reason and make choices; This ability, he claimed, made humans not only superior to animals, however, but to angels as well.
It is a frequently asked question by those at the receiving end of a questioned belief system, culture, religion, festival, etc., that, “If you refute it or not, who cares anyway?”. In answering this in line with Mirandola’s view, Human Beings can change their programming; to learn, unlearn, and relearn. We go a step further in answering this question by saying that, “We preach not to tell lies, steal, commit murder, rape, etc., but they still happen yet we never stop preaching or giving these moral teachings to children”. That a norm, culture, religion, or tradition is sacrosanct because of its wide acceptability or that not everyone would change contradicts not just the Age of Reason but also insults the essence of what makes the human a being. Evolutionists would say Human Beings are anatomically similar and related to the great apes but are distinguished by a more highly developed brain and a resultant capacity for articulate speech and abstract reasoning. Therefore, Creationists and Evolutions would agree that we are autonomous.
The New Year festival of the Gregorian Calendar which starts on the 1st of January immediately after December 31st, the end of a Gregorian Calendar has been a subject of debate for years especially amongst the religious folks who question the pagan root. Culture influences Religion and vice-versa, therefore it is necessary that attention is paid to the origin of terms, how they have evolved over time and a deep understanding of contemporary issues. To summarize the history of the New Year Festival of the Gregorian Calendar mostly used today, the information below gotten from History.com will be used.
The early Roman calendar consisted of 10 months and 304 days, with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox; according to tradition, it was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C. A later king, Numa Pompilius, is credited with adding the months of Januarius and Februarius. Over the centuries, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. the emperor Julius Caesar decided to solve the problem by consulting with the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of his time. He introduced the Julian calendar, which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.
“…As part of his reform, Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honor the month’s namesake: Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future. Romans celebrated by offering sacrifices to Janus, exchanging gifts with one another, decorating their homes with laurel branches, and attending raucous parties. In medieval Europe, Christian leaders temporarily replaced January 1 as the first of the year with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25 (the anniversary of Jesus’ birth) and March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation); Pope Gregory XIII reestablished January 1 as New Year’s Day in 1582.
The practice of making resolutions for the new year is thought to have first caught on among the ancient Babylonians, who made promises in order to earn the favor of the gods and start the year off on the right foot. (They would reportedly vow to pay off debts and return borrowed farm equipment.)“.
Following the “separation of the Church from the State” in Europe; a term that parallels the philosophies of secularism, disestablishmentarianism, religious liberty, and religious pluralism, many changes have been made to religious festivals like Christmas and the New Year.
The Author’s research brings him to the conclusion that, in light of contemporary issues, it is important that two fractions of those who partake in the festivals like the New Year be understood.
THE RELIGIOUS CELEBRANTS
On the night of December 31st, many Christians would gather in the church for a service known as the “Cross-over Night”. The service is followed with praises, worship, and prayers and a tremendous, “Happy New Year” exciting scream at 12a.m on the 1st of January.
It is now common practice amongst some adherents of the religion of Islam to also stage similar religious services with New year Tahajjud, special End of the Year prayer, and a “Happy New Year'” exciting scream like their Christian counterparts.
THE HOLIDAY CELEBRANTS
This set of people do not see these festivals within the scope of religion; just mere holidays for reconnecting with friends and family, merriment and everything feasting entail.
For example, it is not strange to find an Atheist, Agnostic, Freethinker, Hindu celebrating the New Year festival without necessarily fulfilling any form of religious obligation.
THE AUTHOR CONCLUDES
For the record, the purpose of this article is to educate, sensitize, and enlighten. It also seeks to help inform what ruling religious figures would give on these celebrations not just from the books but also in line with contemporary issues.
The Author concludes that there is no spiritual association between New Year festivals and Cross-over nights that certain religious individuals so hold on to. They do not just have no evidence for these acts, there is no special phenomenon that occurs between December 31 and January 1 other than the fact that Earth orbits the Sun.
Conclusively, contemporary established religious practices during New Year’s Eve cannot be traced to any religious scripture. However, a critic or a religious scholar issuing religious rulings may need to distinguish between those who partake in these festivals as a religious act and those who take them as holidays like the several holidays we have to have a more balanced opinion.
Bashir Lucas Samson Lukman is a Public Intellectual who writes on Religion, Contemporary Issues and Clash of Civilizations