by Diya Chaudhuri
Christmas is over, and we’re on to the real holiday, the one where you get just as drunk as you did on Christmas, but your mom’s not there to clench her jaw and give you the Wide, Stony Eyes of Motherhood when you accept another glass of wine from that uncle who honestly does not care if you have to drive later. We’re on to New Year’s Eve, with all the gravitas of the holiday season but none of the familial obligations.
For me, New Year’s Eve has always been a special, private demarcation. My parents and brother all have August birthdays, so I’ve always thought, stupidly but insistently, that the “new year,” for them, has more to do with a dead pope than their actual experiences of time. But January’s the month of my birth, so New Year’s Eve lines up almost precisely with the turning of the page for me. For someone who hates individual attention, it’s the perfect way to quietly note another year’s slinking by without anyone, you know, looking or singing at me. But that’s just me, why I like New Year’s Eve.
You like New Year’s Eve because it’s one of the purest holidays. Nobody makes you go to church or temple at all. Most jobs give you the next day off. A glut of cabs slither up out of the sewers for one night to meet demand, cabs everywhere, just everywhere, you live in Atlanta, where did all these cabs come from? The only problem with New Year’s is that, unlike Christmas/Hanukkah/whatever secular thing we’re doing in December with our days off/etc., people don’t generally know the history of New Year’s Eve. Let’s fix that.
The Roman Feast of Janus, God of Doors and Beginnings
Janus was called divom deus, which is ancient Latin for “the gods’ god.” He was the god of doors and gates, transitions and exchanges including birth and death, ports, trade/shipping, travelling, etc. He was the god of beginnings, but, because endings are also beginnings when you really think about it, man, he was essentially the god of All the Things. For example, the beginning of war is the end of peacetime; the beginning of peacetime is the end of war. Of the Temple of Janus in Rome, Plutarch wrote that it had “double doors, which they call the gates of war; for the temple always stands open in time of war, but is closed when peace has come.”
So all-encompassing is the realm of Janus that the word “janitor” has a direct etymological root to him. Janus comes from the Latin ianus, meaning “arched passageway, arcade,” and janitor from ianitor, meaning “doorkeeper, porter.” This is my favorite #JanusFact because it proves that Janus was the main dude. War, peace, birth, death, time, trade, finding it somewhere deep within yourself to not just slap the shit out of that kid who keeps spilling Mountain Dew on the stairs in center hall and never cleaning it up, just ants EVERYWHERE — Janus oversees all. He doesn’t even have a Greek equivalent, so don’t look for it. Janus is in a league of his own.
Janus is also the first full-length album released by fresh-faced K-pop juggernaut Boyfriend.
According to my sources, Boyfriend is “the first boy band to have twin members,” so it’s fitting that they chose to name their debut album after a roman god who has two faces — one looking forward, one backwards.
Finally, Janus is an alternative metal band from Chicago that, according to Youtube comments, people very much looked forward to seeing in concert with Chevelle in February of 2014.
The Circumcision of Christ
On the liturgical calendar, January 1 is known as “The Solemnity of Mary the Holy Mother of God and the Octave Day of the Nativity of the Lord,” or TSOMTHMOGATODOTNOTL for short, if you have, just, no respect. Another thing I’ve heard this day called is the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, which, when you are nine-year-old pagan from darkest India sitting in Catholic school, is just too much for you to handle, how are you going to get through this, the FEAST, the FEAST of the circumcision, how is Mrs. Wagner not laughing right now?
Jacobus de Voragine’s 13th century The Golden Legend tells us that on the eight day, Jesus was
circumcised and named Jesus, which is as much to say as Saviour. And at the circumcision must he cut a little of the skin at the end of the member or yard, and that is signified and shewed that we ought to be circumcised, and cut and taken away from us the sins and evil vices, that is to wit pride, wrath, envy, covetousness, sloth, gluttony, and lechery, and all sins, and purge us by confession, by contrition, by satisfaction, by almsdeeds, and by prayers, and to give for God’s sake of the goods that he hath lent us.
All of that is a fancy, thirteenth century way of saying “foreskin is for Europeans.”
Earlier, when I said nobody made you go to church or temple on New Year’s Eve, I wasn’t lying. But you do have to go to church on New Year’s Day. Except if you’re Eastern Orthodox, in which case you go to an all-night vigil on New Year’s Eve. I’m sorry, I lied a little bit. For most Christians, though, the worst case scenario is that your mom never notices you skipped church, because who even knew that New Year’s Day had something to do with Jesus getting circumcised? Just drink a lot of fluids, keep the lights dim, and wait out your hangover.
If you feel guilty, here is a beautiful video of the feast-day service at the Tridentine Liturgy Community of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong from 2012. Watch it, say three Hail Marys and an Our Father, and all will be well.
If you are interested in spending an hour and three minutes of your life watching a man talk about Jesus and the holy spirit and circumcision in his living room while portraits of his children grin down from the walls, the same children mumbling bored answers to questions like “does everybody know what a circumcision is?” and “does your mom have a circumcision?”, the same children he stops to chastise from time to time for not paying attention as he talks about god and circumcision for an hour and three minutes, then boy do I have a treat for you.
New Year’s Eve Around the World
In the U.S., we mainly drink, mumble things that approximate the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne, and set off fireworks to celebrate the new year. But if that’s all you’re doing, you’re missing out on some p. good traditions that you should add to your arsenal.
- The American South: You pry your eyelids open on New Year’s Day. You slept in your contacts and you are acutely aware, for once, of how strange it is that you spend so much of your life with plastic, PLASTIC just wedged right in there between your eyelid, really the inside of your skin, and your eyeball, really the surface of an internal organ. You are southern, so you must brunch. Eat what you want, but make sure you get a bite of collard greens and black-eyed peas for health and prosperity in the new year at some point.
- Japan: You drank away all your regrets during the rash of bōnenkai (forget-the-year parties) you attended all December. New year, new you. At midnight, the Buddhist temples will ring the gong 108 times because oh man, do Buddhists love the number 108. In this context, though, 108 is how many earthly temptations we have to overcome to reach nirvana, so you begin each new year with reflection on what you have to do to be a good person in the coming year. If you don’t have a Buddhist temple nearby, just sit there for 108 counts thinking about how you’re gonna do good this year. Or, you know, bring your own gong.
- Spain: Eat one grape for each month of the new year. Twelve grapes. Easy peasy. Except you have to apparently shove them into your mouth as quickly as possible, and god help you if you’re consuming less than one grape per second.
- Early American colonies: shoot your pistols into the desolate night, letting this dark, menacing land know that you are here and you are not afraid, that you have the will of your king behind you, and your king has the will of God Himself behind Him. Shoot your pistols. Shoot all your pistols.