Happy New Year from the Sonoran Desert! … according to Pope Gregory XIII and the Romans

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Happy New Year to all! How exciting to close one cycle and begin another.  A classic moment of death and rebirth that is so important that we celebrate around this time of year on many levels. We have the New Year on our calendar, a point within the journey of the earth around the sun. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, which is very close to the winter solstice, the day when the darkness begins shrinking and the light of Spring and Summer begins to return.

As I sit here, happy to celebrate a new year in the Sonoran Desert I wonder…where and why did our New Year marker begin?

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The calendar in which we celebrate New Years is called the Gregorian Calendar, also known as the Western, or Christian Calendar.  The Gregorian name traces back to Pope Gregory the XIII, but its origins are deeper than that.  Pope Gregory XIII was merely the most recent person to adjust the calendar to its present state.  In the 1500s Pope Gregory corrected the earlier Julian calendar (named for Julius Caesar), which was a modification of the more ancient Roman Calendar.  The problem with the Roman Calendar, and also the Julian calendar is that they are approximations of the length of our journey around the sun.  Because of inaccuracy in the estimate, Easter kept slipping further and further from its proper place in the earth’s cycle near the Spring solstice.  This was unacceptable to the Roman Catholic Church, so they set about fixing it.

photo (4)I was surprised when I first learned that a year is not actually 365 days, but a fraction more 365.242199.  that can be translated to 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds.  This makes it a hard quantity to fit in a box, which is why we have leap year.  It took a while to get the leap year system just right.  Pope Gregory XIII made an adjustment that amounted to just a 0.002% change in the length of the year from 365.25 of the Julian calendar to the 365.2425 it is now.  It was the final straw that got the calendar to a place of relative accuracy.  With a leap year every four years (to account for the aproximate 1/4 of a day we are cutting out in the 365 counting of a 364.2425 cycle), as well as skipping leap years in centennial years unless divisible by 400, Pope Gregory XIII was able to whittle down the average length of day to an accuracy level that avoids a noticeable drift in the calendar cycle as related to our seasonal cycle.  Too this day, many people around the globe count down to those final seconds that took so many centuries for Europeans to pin down.

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Since we are celebrating in the Sonoran Desert, it is important to note that before the arrival of Roman Catholicism with the Spaniards, and thus the arrival of the Western Calendar, New Years was celebrated at a completely different time in the Earth’s cycle.  For the Tohono O’odham the new year began when the first monsoon rains arrived in July!  Their calendar round is based on lunar cycles and can be found here.

The ancient roots of our calendar, believed to be from early Rome or even earlier in Greece, were also a lunar calendar.  Originally the Roman new year was March 1st!  Nobody knows when the start of the Roman calendar was changed to January 1st.  Oh well!  It is still fun to celebrate a point in the solar year when we can look back on what has come before and turn towards the light of a new beginning.

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Here at the Inns at Rancho Merlita, the warm holiday cheer still abounds just like the sun which is also shining and warm.  The birds are singing.  Come warm up your bones and let your soul sing with us in this new year of 2016 (according to some ;)).  Wishing you all the best!


The ERM Family

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