Why Catholics Celebrate the New Year
Writer Jared Staudt states the case for celebrating New Year’s Day as a part of the Christmas feast, not just a secular marking of a new year.
The marking of the dawn of a new year is no secular holiday, because time and history have been drawn into the coming of God into the world. We keep track of our time as either BC (Before Christ) or AD (Anno Domini – Year of the Lord) to demonstrate that Christ is the centre of history, the one through whom we judge all that came before and
is to come.
In the Middle Ages, there was great variance on the celebration of the New Year: March 1, March 25 (Annunciation), September 1, and even Christmas Day. It was the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1582 that eventually brought uniformity to the date of January 1.
That day makes perfect sense for Catholics, even if we are fighting a resurgence of pagan excess surrounding the occasion. New Year coincides with the Octave of Christmas and is no coincidence. As we count our years from the birth of Christ, it makes sense to count our days from Christmas – thus the end of the Christmas season (or Octave) is the perfect time to mark the beginning of the new year.
Celebrating the new year specifically as the anniversary of the birth of Christ transforms its character. Not only does it point to God’s coming into the world as the central point of history, it also emphasises that history has a goal.
The new year marks the new year of the Lord, belonging to the reign of Christ the King, a period of waiting in expectation for the full unfolding of God’s Kingdom.
History itself has the same focal point as Christmas, the coming of Christ into the world, which is why Advent focuses on both of these comings at once.
The celebration of the New Year in January, and in relation to a historical feast, breaks time out of a natural, repetitive cycle. History is not cyclical, or merely an absurdity devoid of meaning (one damn thing after another). We are progressively moving toward a goal from within history, even though this goal leads beyond the world to eternity. It is the coming of God into the world at Christmas which suffuses time with its ultimate meaning.