Unlike Halloween or Valentine’s Day, whose pagan origins are very well known and commemorated, New Year’s has become an entirely secular holiday. As such, while we are still in the month of January, feel free to wish one another a Happy New Year!
According to Judaism, the new year starts on the first day of Tishrei, the day on which God created Man. Adam was born in the fall, when the days were getting shorter and the nights longer.
When Adam realized that the days were becoming shorter, he thought that the world was coming to an end or that darkness was taking over. He thought that by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree he had brought death into the world and that the world itself was slowly dying.
We are told that for eight days he fasted and prayed. Then he noticed that the days were getting longer. Light was returning to the world!
With this first winter solstice, Adam realized that the shorter days were no more than a natural occurrence; it was Mother Nature at work. He then made a celebration which continued for an additional eight days.
In the following years he made festive celebrations to recall both his eight days of fasting and prayer and the eight days of celebration. We see from here that having some kind of celebration at the end of December has been around since the beginning of time! Indeed, virtually every culture, nation and religion includes some kind of end-of-year celebration. All these mid-winter celebrations may very well be the remnants of an ancient festival created by Adam, the first human being and father of all humanity. So, too, it may just be that January was chosen for the New Year because it is the first complete month when the days start getting longer again.
Should Jews be celebrating a day dedicated to an anti-Semite?
This is an issue of much debate within the rabbinic community. Some rabbis hold that the secular New Year should not be observed in any way due its pagan origins and its affiliation with the anti-Semitic Pope Sylvester. Most other rabbis, however, hold that nowadays, the secular calendar has nothing to do with any religion and that the New Year is essentially a secular day. They argue that the pagan origins of the holiday have been forgotten and that most of the world is not at all familiar with them. This is unlike Halloween or Valentine’s Day, whose pagan origins are very well known and commemorated – and therefore should probably not be observed by anyone committed to monotheism.
As such, there is nothing wrong with wishing your Jewish and non-Jewish friends a hearty “Happy New Year!”