New Year season

Some cultores celebrate the start of the new year on March 1st, adhering to practices based on the oldest Roman calendar and which has its most significant trace in the period of purification in February. Others regulate their religious life employing the Julian calendar, which is several days behind its Gregorian version commonly used in modern western societies. In this, there is no uniformity among cultores; personally, however, I never felt the need for anything but today’s civil calendar. I can understand why Hellenic or Kemetic polytheists keep other forms of reckoning time, as both traditions are based on cultures that did it in ways that were (very) different from today’s common system. But as a cultor, I feel right at home with the Gregorian calendar, because it is practically identical to the one used in ancient Rome since the final decades before the Common Era. The only major change were the corrections made by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, which refined the system introduced by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE. But other than that, the Gregorian calendar is virtually the same as the Julian: same twelve solar months with the same names and length. Why on earth would I resort to a second calendar for my religious practices when the one commonly used today is practically identical to that of the culture that’s the basis of my religion?

As such, I celebrate New Year at the same time as most people around me: on January 1st. Yet to me it is not a one-day commemoration, but a period that lasts nine days in total, between the first Calends and the Agonalia of January 9th. In other words, in my house, the celebrations that mark the beginning of a new year take place between two feasts dedicated to Janus, the god of beginnings. It’s the time during which His image remains crowned and there’s a wreath hanging above the statues and photos of my Lares and house genii.

New Year celebrations: Janus crowned and a wreath hanging above my Lararium

New Year celebrations: Janus crowned and a wreath hanging above my Lararium

Floral offerings were actually what lead me to adopt a nine-days celebration. At one point in the past, I asked myself when was the best time to remove the wreaths, since they obviously don’t last forever. “When the flowers wither” would be the most immediate answer, but what if I could do that in a manner that was not only practical, but also symbolic? What if there was a ritual timetable that determined when to offer the wreaths and when to remove them, thus adding religious significance to the gesture? The answer was in the Agonalia, which is a festivity that was marked several times throughout the year in ancient Rome and whose historical meaning is not entirely clear. But it provided me with the necessary timetable, thus resulting in a new year season that is appropriately opened and closed by Janus and after which the wreaths can be removed in a meaningful manner. Of course, this then created a new question: what to do during those nine days? Over the years, I’ve wondered about that and ideas have been taking shape.

In 2012, I marked for the first time a modern celebration of my own creation I named Vialia. It is dedicated to Mercury and the Lares Viales and it takes place on January 4th. The choice of date was naturally motivated by the connection between the god and the number four and the significance of the festivity is tied to Mercury’s role as a god of roads and a gatekeeper of sorts. Therefore, as I stand before a chronological threshold, I honour Him and the genii of the pathways, asking for their blessing and protection as the roads of the new year open before me and another twelve months of travelling and moving about begins. I perform a ceremony to Mercury, decorate His shrine with a wreath and make at least a smaller, additional one to be left on a roadside along with a portion of wheat and wine. If I have free time and the weather allows, I may honour the movement Mercury stands for, as well as the Lares Viales, by actually making a small journey on my bike and leave offerings along the way. Or I can go for some trekking and pile rocks next to a pathway somewhere.

Another celebration, one that I’ll be adding this year, is dedicated to Apollo and will take place on Janury 7th. Again, the choice of day was motivated by the connection between the god and the number and the significance of the festivity is similar to that of the Vialia: Apollo too is a gatekeeper, so again, as I stand before a chronological doorway, I honour Him, asking for His protection and blessing of good health at the start of a new year. I’ll perform a ceremony in Greek rite and offer Him a wreath – I always buy a full batch of flowers on December 31st – but I’m still working further details (name of the festivity included). As with anything, practice makes perfect and this is still a fresh celebration in my religious calendar.

Then there’s something I’ve been considering since last year and I may go forward with it this time. See, January 2014 was a rainy month (very rainy!) and at some point, as I looked at the water on the balcony, I wondered if I should collect some of it in a bowl and use it to wash all the statues that stand in my domestic shrines. Sort of a New Year purification, if you will, resorting to the water Nature naturally provides at the time. I never went through with it, but mentally filed the idea. This year, there’s no rain in sight, so if I go through with it, I’ll have to go to a nearby stream and fill a small bowl with fresh water. I’m still processing the idea, but I may do it on the 5th of January (i.e. the Nones) or three days later, on the 8th.

Finally, it all closes with a second ceremony to Janus on January 9th. Offerings will be made to Him, praises and requests reinforced, several other deities will be honoured and, at sundown, the wreaths will be removed and deposited in a park or wild place, where Nature can consume them.

I’m still working a lot of this and I may add more things in the future, perhaps even to the point of having something for every day between January 1st and 9th. And I can honestly say that I enjoy the idea: more than being an annual occasion, new year is the first festivity and a new beginning! And just as, in the Roman fashion, people say you should step into something with the right foot, I like to step into a fresh cycle of twelve months in a religiously meaningful and rich manner, with due tribute to gods that are simultaneously appropriate for the season and with Whom I can connect. And yes, I am a big “fan” of Janus, so to speak. He was a strong interest of mine when I stepped into Roman polytheist.

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