Happy New Year!
For many pagans across the world Samhain is considered the ‘pagan New Year’. In the late 19th century, Sir John Rhys and Sir James Frazer (The Golden Bough) suggested that it was the “Celtic New Year”, and this view has been repeated by other scholars. For the Celtic people a new day didn’t begin at dawn, but at dusk. The idea behind this concept comes from the notion that before there was light, there was darkness. Before there was life there was a void. From the darkness, light was born. Thus, a new day begins at the beginning of the dark night. They divided their year into a dark half and light half. Thus, the new year began at the beginning of the dark half of the year, at Samhain. However, according to Dr. Ronald Hutton (in his book The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain) the evidence for it being the Celtic or Gaelic New Year’s Day is flimsy. Still, lots of pagans have adopted Samhain as the pagan New Year.
There are also other ideas about a pagan new year though. A lot of pagans consider Midwinter or Yule to be their New Year. The return of the light is marked as a new beginning, the days start to become longer. It doesn’t always feel that way, because it’s still the dark half of the year. Therefore, others consider Imbolc to be the true ‘return of the light’ sabbat and New Year. By early February the days are finally noticeably longer, and sometimes there are even early signs of Spring. A smaller group marks Beltane as their start of the year, the start of the light half of the Celtic year. Midsummer could make sense as the celestial start of a new turn, and that way everyone can take their pick. You decide for yourself, although other pagans might be surprised at your choice.
I’ve put it all in my cauldron and made my own brew of it, so to speak. I started out celebrating Samhain as the pagan New Year because that was what I was taught, but somehow it didn’t feel completely right to me. When I got to know more about Northern paganism and Asatru, I learned that the Norse New Year is celebrated around Jul (Joel, Yule, Midwinter) during the Twelve Nights. When our ancestors used a lunar calendar, it left about 12 days left over each year. So the twelve nights of Yule were not considered to be part of the old year, nor yet part of the new year either. The first night is called Módraniht (Mother Night), on which the Disir (protective female ancestors / goddesses / powers) are honoured. It is mostly celebrated on what we now call Christmas Eve. The Twelve Nights are also the time of the Wyld Hunt. Anyway, interesting stuff and these Norse celebrations resonated deeply within me.
All of this resulted in a very personal way of looking at the pagan new year. For me it isn’t a particular date but a period of time. It starts at Samhain, which is the ending, the closure of the old year. On Midwinter or Yule I celebrate the return of the light, which is my beginning of the new year. The weeks between Samhain and Yule are in-between-time, in which I look back on the old year and prepare for the new year. Introspection and retrospection. I think about my experiences, review and draw conclusions. What has happened, what did I learn from it? What am I thankful for? What do I want to leave behind and what do I take with me into the new year..? During this period I often do divination for the new year. I write a lot, meditate, etc. I don’t have a fixed program, every year it’s different. Sometimes the emphasis is more on looking back, the next time more on making plans. Always a combination of these too, as they are both important to me.
And then there’s today’s internationally accepted and best-known New Year, January 1st of the Gregorian calendar. I acknowledge that too, as it’s part of daily life. In Dutch we call December 31st Oudjaarsdag (Old Year’s Day) and the evening Oudejaarsavond (Old Year’s Eve). January 1st is Nieuwjaarsdag (New Year’s Day). For the last few years I’ve started Old Year’s Day by walking a beach labyrinth, that friends make every year at dawn on this day. It’s always a wonderful experience, I love labyrinths… During the time the labyrinth exists (until flood comes and the sea takes it back) people are free to walk it. Friends or strangers, everyone is welcome. We meet new and old friends and afterwards we drink hot chocolate in the nearby restaurant. On Old Year’s Day it’s a Dutch tradition to bake and eat ‘oliebollen’ (deep-fried solid doughnuts). In the evening friends and family get together for a wonderful night together. That can be a party or just an intimate get-together, with the fireworks at midnight to celebrate the new year. Although it’s beautiful to watch professional fireworks, I don’t particularly like the fireworks in the streets because it scares the hell out of our dogs. But hey, everyone’s entitled to their own way of celebrating New Year. I tried to give you an insight on the pagan ways of it and in particular my own way, which to me is making the most of all possibilities. And as you are reading this in my New Year Time, I end with wishing you a Happy New Year; early, late or just in time!
Sources and interesting links:
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152104311057272&set=a.442367322271.239972.677652271 (a picture of last year’s labyrinth)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliebol (more about ‘oliebollen’)