Sunday, 31 December 2006

New Year Traditions

The Roman and Julian Calendars considered 1 January to be the beginning of the year but, although the twelve month cycle (commencing with January) was used by the medievals, the numbered year only began with a major feast like Christmas (in Germany and early medieval England) or Easter (in France between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries).

Between the thirteenth century and 1752 the English New Year began on 25 March, the Annunciation. What could be a more appropriate date for the start of the year than the Feast of Mary's fiat and Christ's conception? In later years the English observed this Calendar in order to be different from much of Catholic Europe, which from 1582 started adopting the Calendar of Pope Gregory XIII (the Gregorian Calendar) and (from the sixteenth century onwards) celebrating New Year on 1 January - but I think we can forgive them this given the beautiful symbolism of beginning the year with the Annunciation.

Incidentally, one survival of this old way of dating is the UK Tax Year, which still begins on 6 April. As the Wikipedia admirably explains:

This reflects the old ecclesiastical calendar, with New Year falling on March 25 (Lady Day), the difference being accounted for by the eleven days "missed out" when Great Britain converted from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752 (the British tax authorities, and landlords were unwilling to lose 11 days of tax and rent revenue, so the 1752/3 tax year was extended by 11 days). From 1753 until 1799, the tax year in Great Britain began on 5 April, which was the "old style" new year of 25 March. A 12th skipped Julian leap day in 1800 changed its start to 6 April. It was not changed when a 13th Julian leap day was skipped in 1900, so the tax year in the United Kingdom is still 6 April.

Tonight at Kingsland we have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (from 11.30pm) and Midnight Mass, which I've been asked to organise. I thought I might use the opportunity to include two popular traditions. During the Adoration we will recite the Te Deum, to thank God for His graces in 2006 - there is a plenary indulgence attached to doing this on 31 December, under the usual conditions. Then, at the end of the Midnight Mass, we will sing the Veni Creator Spiritus - once again there is a plenary indulgence for doing this on 1 January, as we invoke the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the year. In many places this is done in a separate service. Last December I remember visiting one of the Castelli towns outside Rome and studying the Christmas programme of the Duomo, which included the New Year's Eve Te Deum and 1 January Veni Creator. I think it's a bit more wholesome than watching the various TV specials with a glass of liqueur balanced on the armchair (as I have had to do occasionally in the past!).

Happy Feast of the Holy Family to you all!



Blogger Terry Nelson said...

Happy New Year Father - I delight in your blog and it's my plesure to link to you! God bless you!

2:05 am  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Thanks, Terry, for your king message and link. Keep up the good work and Happy New Year!

10:58 am  

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