[00:45] The Gregorian Calendar
I’m often asked, what is the Vedic worldview about “New Year.” We have a habit in the West of celebrating the New Year based on the Gregorian calendar. A calendar created by Pope Gregory, many hundreds of years ago, the then Pope of the Roman Catholic Church at the Vatican in Rome, which succeeded the Julian Calendar.
That was the calendar that had been used previous to that, all the way from the times of Julius Caesar. Each of these calendars has certain assumptions that it makes about when the New Year is. Everywhere we look in the world, we find that there are a variety of New Year celebrations, depending on the place.
[01:41] Cues From Nature
And really New Year always got its start, when it was allowed to start in this way, from hints and cues provided by Nature itself. And so New Year, as it’s celebrated around the world on the 1st of January, is supposed to be a New Year that started off with, in a religious context, one week after the birth of Jesus, who was considered to be the Christos, the Messiah of the Christian religions.
The 540 brands of Christianity that are extant today started off with one particular brand of Christianity that was the dominant one, and they got to call the shots on when Jesus was born, Ostensibly on the 25th of December, although most biblical scholars agree that Jesus, the Rabbi from Nazareth, most likely was born in September sometime.
There was a tendency in the early days of Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism to subjugate the tribal beliefs of what they referred to as pagan people. People who hadn’t yet been converted to the Christian way, who would watch the trends in Nature. They would see that there’s a particular day of the year, the solstice, which is the day where the night is the longest and the daytime is the shortest. And this is the winter solstice.
[03:24] Solstices and Equinoxes
In the northern hemisphere, where most of these observations took place for centuries, before the Southern Hemisphere became a subject of these observations, the solstice fell ’round or about the 20th, or 21st, depending on the year, because we have six extra hours to deal with in every given year.
That’s why every four years we have to have a leap year, where we add one day to the calendar in February, because the Earth doesn’t actually go around the sun once in 365 days. It goes around the sun once in 365 days and six hours. And so, we ignore that buildup of six hours for about four years and then we add a new day, a leap year, making the last day of February the 29th instead of what it normally is in the other three years of the decade, which is the 28th of February. 28, sometimes 29, depending on a leap year or not.
So, our solstices and equinoxes. Solstice means in the Northern Hemisphere, the longest night and the shortest day, and ancient tribal people put a lot of emphasis and importance on this as a transition period.
A period of time when the longest night occurred was a time when you wanted plenty of firewood burning on your fires. The Yule log and the Yuletide was a ceremony traditionally observed by people, long before the Christian era, in order to make people feel a bit more cheerful and jolly that, though it was the longest night, and a lot of darkness and very short days, that good times were coming.
And celebrations that were carried on at around that time were, sublimated by the assertion that this was around about, the birth time of the Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, who became known as the Messiah, the Christos, Jesus Christ was born.
The adoration of Jesus was now to take precedence over these pagan ceremonies that were observed by these heathen people. “You can continue having your ceremony, but let’s turn it into a celebration of Jesus.”
[05:51] Gap Week
And then came the time of the making of the Gregorian calendar and in order to get all of the dates to fit right, there had to be a gap week. That gap week was the week that, although the 1st of January is supposed to be the first day in the year of our Lord, anno domini (A.D.), the first day of the year, January 1st, strangely enough, happens one week after the birth of Jesus.
So one week after the 25th of December comes the New Year. The great celebration of the, you know, “now we are all Christians” and this tendency to use this calendar as a matter of convenience all over the world, even though the religious context is mostly ignored.
Even in countries that do not consider themselves to be Christian countries or countries that celebrate anything to do with Christianity, still use largely the Gregorian calendar and celebrate the New Year, commencing one week after the birth of Jesus.
Nothing from Nature’s perspective actually happens on the 1st of January. 1st of January is a week and a bit later than the solstice. But let’s not pay too much attention to that, we’ve already created the calendar and we just follow that.
So we say, the New Year, and the year commences on the 1st of January and everybody has a big celebration and then recovers from that, and maybe has a day off or two from work. In some cases people take long holidays and the New Year has begun in the middle of winter.
[07:39] Vernal Equinox
In the Vedic perspective, there is the view that Nature should dictate when the New Year starts. And largely this is during the equinox, the vernal equinox, as occurs in the Northern hemisphere in March.
In this particular March that is coming, it’s going to be the 20th of March, will be the vernal equinox. And what is the equinox? Just a reminder for those of you who’ve forgotten. Equinox is the time of the year where the night and the day have exactly the same number of hours and minutes, equinox.
And interestingly, the day and the night are exactly the same length of time in both the Northern Hemisphere, that is north of the equator and also in the Southern Hemisphere, south of the equator. On that particular day, which in this coming year will be March the 20th. There’ll be a particular time where the 24 hours of a day will be divided by an exactly 12 hour night, an exactly 12 hour day, both in the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.
[09:01] Spring – When We See the Fecundity of the Earth
In the Northern Hemisphere the vernal, meaning spring equinox. This is the time of the celebration of New Year, and in India, the land of the Veda, they’ll find a convenient time to celebrate Vasant. Vasant means spring. Spring, meaning the end of winter, and the commencement of summer is done astronomically not meteorologically.
Meteorologically, spring normally ‘s considered to start on the 1st of March, but astronomically, that is to say with reference to what the Sun and the Earth are doing, spring actually starts in the spring or vernal equinox.
This is the autumnal equinox in the southern hemisphere, every place south of the equator. And so it may not make that much sense for this to be the beginning of the New Year.
From the Vedic perspective, the New Year is best celebrated at whatever that time is where spring springs forth out of winter, in particular, at the first New Moon after the vernal equinox.
When spring appears out of winter, all kinds of wonderful natural changes occur.
We begin to see the fecundity of the Earth, with the fertility of the Earth showing. Sprouts appear on trees, grass comes up out of barren soil. Flowers of all kinds begin to appear. Birds that have taken shelter from the winter reappear in the regions where the spring is beginning. It is the dawn of the year.
[10:47] Creating Additional Joy
And the dawn of the year, from the Vedic perspective is the time to celebrate the New Year. Now, that’s not to say that we have to be kind of weirdos and not say Happy New Year to anybody on January 1st, or at midnight on December 31st. You know, it’s natural that, as we say in our tradition, “wise do not bewilder ignorant.” It’s not a good thing for wise people to bewilder ignorant people.
My recommendation is we continue playing along with all of the elements of the Gregorian calendar, but we can create an additional joy in our life by just having a quiet inner sense of celebratory nature roundabout the equinox, March it’ll be on, 20th, in 2023, the vernal equinox.
And for those of you in the southern hemisphere, you need to do a similar thing in September. Which is, the commencement of spring in the southern hemisphere. Spring begins September, October, November, December, September and around about the twenties, 20, or 21, depending on the year, will be the change of season from winter to spring in the southern hemisphere.
Basically, spring is considered, in the Vedic worldview, to be the significant start of a New Year, a new beginning. The tailings of winter, the season of quietness and fulfillment then gives rise to expansion, fecundity, celebratory nature. Something exciting happens in the spring. And this is the Vedic worldview about the proper celebration of Nature’s intelligence as it shows itself in abundance around about the vernal equinox.