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a time for renewal happy new year

by Beth Atcheson | December 31, 1999

We were curious. Why is it that “Father” Time appears at New Year’s?

So, we went looking for the story.

Chronus is an ancient god who was believed to have created the world. He is often pictured with an hourglass and a scythe, a tool with a long curved blade which is used for harvesting crops. These symbols represent the passage of time, and Chronus is the personification of time.

The early Greeks had a god named Cronus (also known as Cronos or Kronos). His festival celebrated the harvest and so he was often pictured with a scythe or, later, a curved sword. In the Greek language, Cronus is spelled like the word for time, and so Cronus also became the personification of time.

Cronus had quite a personal history. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Cronus was the son of Uranus (Heaven) and Gaea (Earth), being the youngest of the 12 Titans. On the advice of his mother he castrated his father with a curved sword, thus separating heaven from earth. He now became the king of the Titans, and took for his consort his sister Rhea; she bore by him Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon, all of whom he swallowed because his own parents had warned that he would be overthrown by his own child. When Zeus was born, however, Rhea hid him in Crete and tricked Cronus into swallowing a stone instead. Zeus grew up, forced Cronus to disgorge his brothers and sisters, and waged war on Cronus and was victorious.

Saturn, a Latin or Roman god, is associated with Cronus. The days sacred to Saturn were the Saturnalia, the end of December and end of the year. These were marked by rather wild festivities. All starting to sound familiar?

In the Middle Ages most European countries used the Julian calendar and celebrated New Year’s Day on March 25, Annunciation Day, the day on which it was revealed to Mary that she would give birth to the Son of God. When the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582, Roman Catholic countries began to celebrate New Year's Day on January 1 and this tradition spread as other countries adopted the Gregorian calendar (also the period when Canada was being discovered, settled and explored).

Many new years are celebrated in Canada. For the Greek Orthodox, January 1 is St. Basil’s Day. For the Koreans, it is Solnal. Chinese New Year traditionally begins on the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar. This is similar to Losar for the Tibetans and Tet for the Vietnamese. Naw Ruz is the Baha’i, Zoroastrian, Iranian, Afgahni and Kurd New Year. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is observed in the autumn.

Happy New Year!

more to consider

So much of what we are taught or what we observe is from the past. It may be a bit of this and a bit of that – look at Father Time – but it ends up having meaning and influencing us. So much of what we think of ourselves as women, or what others think of us, comes from the past and has the power of being deeply embedded in our culture. However modern and “with it” we think we are, the past is very powerful. Those who seek change in society are taking on both the past and the future.

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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