The earliest recorded New Year’s celebration according to many sources is thought to be in Mesopotamia, a historical region of Western Asia around 2000 B.C. The celebrations actually occurred during the vernal equinox in mid-March — as this was considered the start of the new year by the calendar at the time. It was an elaborate eleven-day festival that would probably put our current parties to shame. According to sources, the Ancient Mesopotamian people performed rituals, celebrated the religious victory of the sky god Marduk over the sea goddess Tiamat and either crowned a new king or allowed their old king to continue his reign.
Sosigenes, an astronomer in Ancient Roman times, convinced Julius Caesar to follow the solar year instead of the lunar cycle and from 46 B.C. on, the new year began in January. Starting the new year in January was partially done to honor the Roman god Janus, for whom the month was named. Since Janus is often depicted as having two faces, he was able to look back into the past and forward into the future simultaneously, making him a great spokesperson for the holiday we celebrate today. He also presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence war and peace. The past year has seen all of us in New Zealand and around the world experience a level of uncertainty and conflict that has been both unprecedented and unusual. It is not a traditional war or conflict with weapons against a country or against an ideology. There is no clear blueprint for battle or reporting on progress. Just as we achieve what can be called a milestone in this pandemic, the goalposts seem to change.
But we are learning and one of the greatest strengths we have as a species is our ability to learn from our mistakes. As we move into 2022, whatever your beliefs and your situation, it is perhaps timely to reflect on the lessons and teachings from what history can tell us, be like Janus and apply them to our interactions with others.