04 January 2010

Prid. Non. Ian. MMDCCLXIII A.U.C.

Be it hereby resolved that I make no new year's resolutions posts.

This is partly because my resolutions don't change that much. I'd like to be a better knitter, a more successful cook and gardener, to read more, to write more, and so on. Annual reiteration of these goals isn't necessary and at any rate would be a bore -- to me, and to you.

The other reason for not writing a resolutions post is that, for me, the new year really starts in October: on the first, for the federal fiscal year (celebrated with pizza and CFR jokes, of course, and professional resolutions in the form of the annual performance review); and the thirty-first, because that's how the wheel turns.

I have a vague memory of the Roman tax cycle having an important date in September or perhaps even on the Calends of October, but I'm not near my chronology (1) texts and my Google-fu seems weak, so I am not sure if the start of the fiscal year can be linked to survivals from the ancient world or not. Not of course that it matters very much except that it amuses me when I can link the habits of this capital to those of that earlier one. I blame the abundance of marble columns in both places.

I've never been quite sure why the Romans settled on the first of January as the start of the new year, either. I mean, yes, Janus and doorways and all that, but why in the middle of winter, inconveniently soon after Saturnalia? What was so special about that? Why not put the festival of the god of thresholds at some other season? Why not put it at a visible change of seasons?

John Ruskin makes the case in The Queen of the Air that one can't even begin to get at what deities like Athene and Apollo meant to the ancient Greeks without visiting Greece and experiencing the qualities of air and sunlight there. I certainly got a better idea of why the winter solstice/Christmas should be considered midwinter, and the season as a whole bracketed by 31 October and 2 February from living in Scotland. Why the beginning of spring should be counted from early February and not from the equinox seemed especially clear. It wasn't about marmots or their shadows, or daffodils, or any of that. It was about the days at last becoming visibly longer, about the lambing beginning, about something in the wind. The change was evident. So perhaps if I lived a year or two in Rome, the meaning of 1 January might be clearer.

Well, if centuries are conveniences of the calendar, so are individual years. As it was, New Year's Day passed as just another in a series of bitterly cold, windy days in Cape Despair, the sort of days that make one seriously consider replacing the windows. I made the traditional meal -- ham, hoppin' john, cornbread -- but otherwise the first day of 2010 did not stand out as being in any way different from the last day of 2009. Here's to it all, anyway, and may it be happy and prosperous.

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