This Sunday (November 30), the First Sunday of Advent, is our New Year celebration. Yep, that’s right, not January 1. Our celebration is much more modest than what the world celebrates, which is properly called the Festival of Janus. We don’t have a crystal cross descending or throngs of people watching a clock tick at the local cathedral; we celebrate Mass.
You might ask, “What is this Festival of Janus that’s celebrated on January 1st?” Glad you asked! Most of the world participates in this rite whether they believe in Janus or not. Who is Janus? Janus is the god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings, endings, and time in Roman cult and worship. In fact, the month of January is named after him. In art, he is depicted with having two heads looking in opposite directions; one looks to the future and the new while the other looks to the past and the old.
Ancient history tells us that this celebration included the large consumption of alcohol as well as making resolutions for the next year. Amidst the celebrating, there is the exchanging of sweet dates, honey, and coins. Everyone had to celebrate for fear of Janus. If someone was found not to be participating they would have bad fortune for the next year.
When Constantine became Emperor, he recognized the celebration for what it was and by law, made it a day of fasting for the Lord not feasting for Janus. Unfortunately, after his demise, the pagan traditions continued. In 567, the Church, at the Second Council of Tours in France, abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. And, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII re-established January 1 as New Year’s Day with his calendar reform.
This paved the way for the Church to begin marking its year with the First Sunday of Advent. This New Year’s celebration is traditionally exercised by taking time for reflection and meditation since the Church was entering into a little Lent. Advent, even today, is a time of waiting, conversion, and hope. It is meant to be a time focused on making room in our hearts for the King of Kings through meditation on Sacred Scripture, penance, and fasting. It is a time to enter into the silence and darkness of our hearts in order to experience the joy, jubilation, and the light of Christ triumphant and the child Jesus. In fact, during the first two weeks of Advent, the Church focuses on the second coming of Christ. It is only during the last two weeks that we turn towards the mystery of the Incarnation and the “Christmas story” (CCC 524). To be honest, it is only in the season of Christmastime (the Solemnity of the Nativity- December 25 through the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord) that all our Christmas carols and jubilation are designed for.
This Sunday, commit to making it a day of celebrating the new liturgical year – a year of grace and salvation. The official cult of Janus has disappeared although their liturgical rites endure even today. Interestingly enough, Holy Mother Church encourages us to pass from December 31 to January 1 with sentiments that “give rise to a dual feeling: of penance and sorrow for the sins committed during the year and for the lost occasions of grace; and of thanks to God for the graces and blessings He has given during the past year.”
In some places Holy Mass is offered but it is more common that the pious tradition of a Holy Hour is celebrated. These religious exercises are encouraged in order that we may celebrate “merely as a reaction to the thoughtless dissipation with which society celebrates the passage from one year to another, but as a vigil offering of the new year to the Lord.” Why? Eternity will be the true celebration. This life is but a preparation for the eternal party.
You might think that the Church is being a killjoy for January 1st but really she is celebrating the salvific mystery of Christ. But remember that we do not conform ourselves to the world (Romans 12:2) but sanctify time through our liturgical seasons. We are also but pilgrims (1 Peter 2:10) on this earth. We glory in the fact that Jesus has invited us to join in His mission of salvation for everyone we meet. We are called to make new resolutions every evening at the beginning of Night Prayer (Compline) – not once a year.
We no longer have to fear what the future holds or if we will find joy and happiness in the next year. Jesus, the Lord of History, rules! As the Carthusian motto proclaims, “While the earth continues to change, the cross endures.” In Him, the Christian cares little for the old pagan rites – we reject them. They glory in their Lord and celebrate the liturgical year which is the preparation for the rhythm of eternity.
So, where do you profess your allegiance? With Christ or Janus? May the calendar year pass by in obscurity while the first Sunday of Advent fill your heart with anticipation and joy for the birth of a King.
Happy New Year!…Almost…
written by Deacon Marques Silva