New Year's Day - as marked on January 1st by the overwhelming number of countries that have long adopted the Gregorian calendar - is the world's most celebrated public holiday. Established by Julius Caesar to honor ...Janus the god of gates and doors who had two faces (one looking forward and one back), the Roman emperor felt this day would be the appropriate ‘door’ to the year.
That first year, 46 B.C.E., Caesar ordered the revolutionary Jewish forces in the Galilee be violently crushed. Eyewitnesses record that blood flowed in the streets. Three centuries later, as Christendom assumed the Gregorian calendar, New Year's Day marked the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, and is still observed as such in the Anglican and Lutheran Church. [ In Jewish tradition, a bris is held eight days from birth. If one counts from Dec. 25th (including that day itself), Jesus’ circumcision would be January 1st. ] This was important to the faithful as it celebrated the first time the blood of Jesus was shed.
Fast forward to 1577 and on New Year’s Day of that year, Pope Gregory decreed that all Roman Jews, under pain of certian death, must attend the compulsory Catholic conversion sermon given in Roman synagogues after Friday night services. The following New Year’s Day, Gregory signed into law a tax forcing Jews to pay for the support of a “House of Conversion” to convert Jews. On January 1, 1581 the same Pope ordered his troops to confiscate all sacred literature from the Roman Jewish community. Thousands of Jews were murdered.
Of course, Gregory was not alone. Throughout much of the medieval and post-medieval periods, the day of Jesus’ circumcision which - in their belief - initiated the reign of Christianity and the death of Judaism, was reserved for anti-Jewish activities: synagogue and book burnings, public tortures, and murder.
This explains why the distinctively Christian days of Dec. 25th and January 1st begin their celebrations the night before. Both have Jewish origins. As such, they follow the Jewish tradition of marking days from the previous evening, as in Shabbos begins Friday night. This is based on the opening verses in Genesis, “It was evening, it was morning, one day,” where the prior night id mentioned first.
With all this in mind, let me wish all those who read my articles , A HAPPY NEW YEAR. I certainly hope it will happier than it was for many of our ancestors.
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