The paper-cut above is by the artist Rob Ryan. Purchase his books, art, and cards here. All people divide time. We divide daylight from darkness and special occasions from usual routines. We give these divisions names. We call the light “day” and the darkness “night.” We call special occasions names such as “birthdays” and “anniversaries.”
People always have a “start-over day” when they celebrate a new year.
More complicated ways to divide time are “weeks” and “months” and “years.” If you watch the moon every night you will see that it changes over a period of around 29 days, which is about a month. That’s how long it takes for the full moon to grow smaller and smaller, then larger and larger until it becomes a full moon again. The first calendars were probably based on watching the moon.
Long ago, the Romans began naming the months, and many modern people have kept the names. We call the first month “January,” a word taken from the name of the Roman god Janus, who ruled beginnings and endings. Drawings of Janus show him with two faces, one looking backward and one looking forward. The name “April” is taken from the Roman word aperire, which means, “to open.”
People always have a “start-over day” when they celebrate a new year. And different people count the years differently. Muslims count the years from when the prophet Mohammed fled from the city of Mecca to the city of Medina. The Jewish new Year is said to be the anniversary of creation. Thus day falls close to the autumn equinox, when day and night are of equal length. After all, when God created the world, day and night must certainly have been equal!
Christians begin their count of years with the days just before the birth of Jesus. And during the days that we celebrate his birth, the whole world ends the old year and begins a new one.
We like to think that all our years, when we put them together, are different from the two-faced god Janus who keeps beginning and ending, beginning and ending, but going nowhere. And time really isn’t like the moon, growing full and then growing dark, again and again. We believe that time had a single beginning and will have a single ending — and what a wonderful ending it will be! Each year brings us closer to Christ and to the eternity that we are promised.
(This appeared, in a longer form, in The Winter Saints, a book of Advent and Christmas for children by our own Melissa Musick Nussbaum.)