“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.”T.S. Eliot; poet, 1930
As 2020 winds it’s way to a rather inglorious conclusion, all eyes look ahead to the coming year. It’s a strange ritual, when you come to think of it, that the pealing of the bells at midnight on what is essentially a random date in the calendar should potentially herald great changes. What is it about the transition from the 31st December to the 1st of January that might magically erase the ills of the past year and ring in hope and positive change? It’s unfortunate that this New Year’s Eve should be so restricted in its celebrations: even here at Waterfront Charters we’ve had to shift our midnight cruise to a pre-sunset cruise to accommodate lockdown curfews. So our Champagne Midnight Cruise is now a Grape Juice Pre-sunset Cruise – still a great way to wave off 2020, we can assure you. The magic of Cape Town will always win through, whatever the time of day or year.
Before we examine the particular mindset of humans as the year ticks over, it’s an interesting look back at history as to why the 1st of January is marked as day one in a calendar year. If we look at the cycles of the year, March was historically celebrated as the beginning of a new year, coinciding with equinox and the change in season in the Northern Hemisphere to spring and the growing season. Ancient Mesopotamia (now Iraq) was the first civilisation to make a celebration of the day, way back in 2000 BCE (although they didn’t know it was 2000 BCE, we reckon) when they celebrated the new year on the vernal equinox, which actually makes a lot of sense. The Romans were having none of that, however, so they set up a ten month year with the 1st March designated as New Year’s Day. The months were originally timed to coincide with the cycles of the moon, and the 1st March was full moon. We still have the remnants of this system in our current naming of the months: September through to December being quite simply the seventh to tenth months of the Roman calendar. (Calends, the Roman word for the first of each month, giving us the ‘calendar’.)
Along came politics, of course. The moon, sun and stars weren’t nearly as important as the bureaucrats, and in 153 BCE the beginning of the year was set to coincide with the Calends of Januarius – the date when the consuls of Rome were appointed. The Roman dating of years had already, for many centuries, followed the names of the consuls rather a numeric pattern, so it is supposed that the timing of a new phase should be on the date when the consuls were tapped on the head with a laurel wreath by the senators and given free reign over the Roman Empire. Many Romans said ‘Bah! Humbug!’ to this innovation and continued celebrating in March, no doubt incurring the wrath of the purple-toga’d demi-gods of the Senate.
Come Christianity, and the Roman dates were seen askance by various church groups. The Council of Tours (Tours the city; not tours as in a medieval tourism promotion group) banned New Year’s Day celebrations in 567 CE, and insisted that New Year should begin on the 25th December, for fairly obvious reasons. Then things become too confusing for a narrative of this nature: New Year was either 1st January (for the seditious), 25th December (for the Christians), 1st March (for the classical Romans), 25th March (for astronomers and astrologers) or on the moveable Feast of Easter (for the Catholics.) To make a complicated story easier to follow, it took Pope Gregory to set up the Gregorian Calendar in 1582, not without some opposition it must be said. Many people took umbrage to the fact that they lost ten days of their lives to get the calendar to coincide with the heavens again. The fact that some less than scrupulous employers cut pay by ten days didn’t help.
And so it is that here in the Western world, January 1st is seen to be the harbinger of new hope, the realisation of wishes and the impetus behind personal goals and ambitions. The day may be entirely random, but we believe that the human spirit can make that difference. Much has been said and written about positive attitudes over the centuries, and there is no doubt that will can triumph over adversity. At Waterfront Charters we look forward to 2021; not with blind optimism, but with a realistic belief that together we can create the changes that will bring about a healthy world where we can move past viruses and our differences to build a strong, supportive society.
May 2021 bring you all good health and freedom from worry. We look forward to seeing all our guests, friends and business colleagues next year, and will continue to provide Cape Town’s most enchanting ocean adventures: seeing the world anew from the deck of a beautiful boat is the perfect way to see that this is an amazing world, well worth living in.