I’m sure I’m not the only person who thinks that New Year’s Eve is a very strange construct. In fact I know I’m not because there was an article about this very thing in the paper today and there is probably a similar one published every December 31st. With apologies for bandwagoning, here are my several cents about this issue.
What is a year anyway? Since you asked, the scientific definition of a year is the orbital period of the earth moving around the sun. So that seems pretty straight forward and something we can all agree on. Oh, except of course if you are a follower of geocentrism (which yes – is actually a thing – that unsurprisingly is apparently tied up somehow with creationism and probably has Sarah Palin as patron saint). But putting aside ‘earth as the centre of the universe’ truthers, the concept of ‘year’ all goes out the window after we move beyond the orbit thing, because we insist on trying to subdivide and count time.
Time, of course, has its own existential challenges. According to Mr. Webster, “time is a measure in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future, and also the measure of durations of events and the intervals between them.” So in other words, time is something we invented in order to explain things like time. But I digress.
At some point we started to assign numbers to years, or orbital periods of approximately 365 days, although the 365 day thing is also arbitrary because the actual length of an orbital year varies depending on where you are situated on the longitude of the earth. For example, at the equator a year lasts 365.24219 days. Anyhow, when we started assigning numbers to years it was long after the start of our orbital birth, or about 4.5 billion years ago if you are in one camp, or 6 to 10,000 years ago if you are in another. So either way you slice it, we are way beyond any year starting with 2000.
Then let’s take the decision to decide a new year begins at the beginning of a month those of us who use the Julian calendar call January. January didn’t even exist until about 700 BC (or around 4,539,997,285 for purists) and it wasn’t until 46 BC (4,539,997,939 on the real calendar) that Julius Caesar decreed in his wisdom that forever more January 1 would be the start of a new year. Then it literally all went to hell sometime in the middle ages when it was decided that all things ancient Rome were pagan and we had to choose some other random point in the year to be the start of a new orbit around the sun, most commonly the vernal equinox which also pretty much corresponded to the Christian Easter observance. Which kind of makes more sense, because spring is much more like a new beginning than winter in my book. Alas, this temporary logic was reversed when towards the end of the 16th century (4,539,998,435 to be precise) the Gregorian calendar restored January 1 as the anointed start of a new year in the Christian world.
So have a great 2016, or 5776, or 1437, or 4,540,000,001. Whatever it is, it’s still the first day of the rest of your life.