Of Julius Caesar, Pope Gregory XIII and Russian Oxymoron Holiday — Happy Old New Year!

Happy Old New Year 2019!

What could possibly bring together such unlikely companions as a great Roman emperor, a medieval Pope and a Russian wintry oxymoron celebration?

As the 13th of January is blending with the darkness of the night and taking us to the dawn of the following  morning, in my native Russia as well as in many Russian-speaking communities around the Globe people will be preparing their glasses of champagne, caviar toast and, perhaps, another round of Olivier” salad.

We will be wishing each other “Happy New Year!” for the second time in a fortnight — but with one tiny difference. This time we will be saying “Happy Old New Year!” — «Счастливого Старого Нового года!»

The story goes back to the days of Julius Caesar who proposed the Julian calendar as a way of measuring years, months and days. It was a huge success and lasted well over a thousand years until medieval scholars discovered in it some imprecision and mismatches at the level of astronomy. That resulted in re-vamping the methodology  of counting leap years and introducing the “new” Gregorian calendar, which was a courtesy of Pope Gregory XIII (hence the name).

While Medieval Europe embraced the idea of switching to the new calendar almost immediately — the Orthodox Conservative Russia continued to use the “old” Julian calendar all the way until the Russian Revolution, which meant that by XX century the country “was lagging” two weeks behind. That all changed when Lenin brought on the heads of Russians not only the events of 1917 and major language reform (as a result of which we lost several characters of our alphabet) — but he also “moved” the newly-born USSR two weeks forward in time by switching to the Gregorian calendar and aligning the country — if not in ideology — but in chronology with a lot of the rest of the world, including Europe and the Americas.

But Russian/ Soviet/ Russian people love holidays more than anything else in the world! Holidays give us a wonderful opportunity to sit at the table with friends and relatives chatting and feeling happy!

While the idea of the new calendar may have been somewhat confusing, the “new” New Year very quickly was classified not as a replacement but an addition to the “old” “traditional” New Year festival.

As a result we now celebrate two New Years in two weeks! And never mind the oxymoron — we love that déjà vu” of the 31 of December and everything that goes with it! And no politics or revolution is likely to take this away!

Fortunately, we are not alone in this tradition. According to Wikipedia, the Old New Year is celebrated in Serbia, Montenegro, most of the countries of the former USSR and even in a few cantons of Switzerland where several German-speaking communities never fully accepted the idea of the Gregorian calendar.

So, to all of those who likes the idea of an additional festive opportunity — Happy Old New Year!

Liudmila Tomanek
Russian Translation World Ltd

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