New Year S Myths

New Year”s myths surrounding the concept of time and new beginnings have been around for ages. In fact, many of these tales arose from ancient days, when gods and goddesses cavorted while humans worshipped them.

While some New Year”s myths, such as Father Time, can be linked to the gods, others revolve around superstition. These myths have no character-driven basis but are just as revered in practice.

Father Time and the New Year Baby

The most well-known New Year”s Eve myth might be the one that focuses on Father Time. This elderly gentleman rings out the old year, which leads to a rebirth and the anticipation of spring.

Some people state that Father Time is a newer incarnation of the Greek god Kronos, whose name is derived from Cronus, the Greek word for time.

Father Time carries an hourglass. As the stroke of midnight approaches on New Year”s Eve, the upper chamber of the hourglass is nearly empty. As midnight strikes, the last grains from the upper chamber flow into the lower chamber, signaling the arrival of the New Year Baby.

The New Year Baby is often depicted wearing a top hat, sash and diaper. He represents beginnings, rebirth and positive thoughts for prosperity and good health in the coming year. This young child may have Egyptian and Greek origins, perhaps dating as far back as 600 BC. German immigrants receive credit for introducing this baby in America. As a chubby cherub, he is often pictured on the lap of Father Time.

The New Year Baby ages all too quickly, however, becoming Father Time by Dec. 31.

The Holly King vs. the Oak King

Another myth about New Year”s celebrations revolves around the Celtic Holly King, also known as the god of the dying year. Often linked to Father Christmas, according to the myth, the Holly King goes to battle against the Oak King, his twin, and wins at the end of the old year, or the Yule period. However, the Oak King rises to the challenge and conquers the Holly King at midsummer. At the end of the following Yule period, however, the Holly King will declare victory again.

Once the Holly King becomes the victor, New Year”s celebrations can begin in anticipation of the earth”s rebirth. As with other myths, emphasis lies in the fact that rebirth cannot exist without death.

Janus: The God of Beginnings and Endings

Janus, the two-faced Roman god, is another New Year”s myth that leads to celebrations and gift-giving. Also known as the god of beginnings and endings, or gates and doorways, Janus holds rule over the month of January. He greets the New Year with one face and says goodbye to the past with the other.

In ancient times, the practice of exchanging sacred olive branches was in honor of this deity and a gesture thought to bring luck in the coming year. Coins of Janus, along with gold-covered nuts, also circulated among the wealthy during these New Year”s celebrations.

New Year”s Myths and Superstition

Of course, many superstitions surrounding New Year”s come from early myths. Many people welcome the coming year by performing one of the following:

  • cleaning the house thoroughly on New Year”s Eve to remove bad luck
  • eating a specific food in the hopes of gaining financial wealth
  • using noisemakers at the stroke of midnight to chase away the past year”s evil spirits.

If, for some reason, you feel like the myths surrounding one New Year”s celebration isn”t enough, don”t worry. You”ll find plenty more tales and customs revolving around the Chinese New Year, the Jewish New Year and a host of other New Year”s celebrations.

Resources

Avalon Traditions (n.d.). The Ways of Avalon. Retrieved September 27, 2007, from the Avalon Traditions Web site: http://www.avalontraditions.com.

Lindemans, Micha F. (1999). Janus. Retrieved September 27, 2007, from the Encyclopedia Mythica Web site: http://www.pantheon.org/articles/j/janus.html.

Norder, Dan (1999). Cronus: Titan, Reaper, Father Time… Crow? Retrieved September 27, 2007, from the Mythologyweb.com Web site: http://www.mythologyweb.com/cronus.html.