For those of us temporally tied to the Gregorian Calendar, the new year of 2016 will begin in just a few days. This is the first of three posts leading to that event.
The whole world probably has some tie to that Gregorian Calendar today, but it was not always so. In earlier times, humans lived according to the broad changes of the seasons without much need to specify any single, particular day. However, the uniting of significant portions of the world under the Romans brought the administrative necessity for a common calendar. In the year we now call 46 B.C., Julius Caesar, after consulting the Egyptian astronomer Sosigenes, decreed that the empire would use a calendar based on a solar year of 365 days, with an extra day added every fourth year.
Thus, the average year became 365.25 days. That became problematic, though, because the true solar year, based on the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, is really about 11 minutes shorter than was recognized by the calendar – and it changes by a second or two every few years. Consequently, the calendar became out of synch with the solstices and equinoxes by a whole day every 130 years or so. As the centuries passed, the celebration of Easter (as determined by the First Council of Nicaea) was moving closer to summer and the dates for the seasons had varied significantly.
The Catholic Church set up a committee of astronomers to study the matter. After many years of research, a papal bull was issued by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, changing the calculation for the celebration of Easter and modifying the old Julian Calendar. Under the new Gregorian Calendar, an extra day was added every fourth year, except no day is added to years that are divisible by 100, unless the year is also divisible by 400, in which case the extra day is added. In other words, the year 2000 was a leap year, even though 1900 was not. Simple, huh?
The Gregorian Calendar was adopted, sometimes hesitantly, by most of the so-called Western World by the end of the 18th Century. As a result of a need for uniformity in matters of global commerce, the rest of the world began using it for many purposes by the early part of the 20th Century.
While Pope Gregory’s decree established the length of the year, it did not say when the year should start. For a long time, the Church continued to use Christmas, December 25th, as the beginning of its ecclesiastical year. Other groups chose to begin the new year on January 1st – or March 1st – or March 25th – or on a solstice or equinox day. It took awhile, but here in the 21st Century there is a general agreement that the calendar year begins on January 1. That is the date coming at the end of this week.
There are various traditions for celebrating the transition from one year to the next. In the United States, it is common to “ring out the old and ring in the new” with a celebratory party featuring happy people and funky music.
It is also common to look back on years like 2015 with a desire to heal the many things that have gone wrong. We have been through mass killing and terrorist attacks, there have been wars and insurgencies. 2015 was not even an election year but the U.S. has experienced a divisive, media-driven political campaign filled with lies and demagoguery.
On a more personal level, numerous friends and relatives have suffered illnesses, injuries, physical deterioration, loss and pain. There is a need for healing on a personal, as well as a global, level.
Well, I would like to suggest a song you should listen to. It is performed by the Neville Brothers, who are the epitome of of funky New Orleans soul and rhythm and blues. The song is “Healing Chant” from their wonderful 1989 album, Yellow Moon. This is a powerful song that truly can help to bring healing. You should listen to it.