A new year! We have orbited the sun again, and now it is time to change the numbers; 2022 becomes 2023.
Perhaps you have always enjoyed
this tradition, or perhaps you are new to New Year celebrations at midnight on January
1st. In some cultures like Egypt, the new year starts at harvest
time. Why does our year change when it does? It all has to do with Sirius, a
very bright star that has guided navigators for millennia; in fact, it is the
brightest star in the sky. It is actually a binary (double) star that has been
observed since antiquity.
Ptolemy of Alexandria used Sirius
as the location for the globe’s central meridian when he mapped the stars. Sirius
is called the Dog Star, due to its position in the Canis Major (Greater Dog)
constellation; many cultures associate this star with dogs. Sirius marked the
coming of winter for the Polynesians, for the Egyptians it foretold flooding of
the Nile, in Greece, it accompanied the hot, “dog days” of summer. Its name
means sparkling, or scorching. In the children’s rhyme, Hey Diddle Diddle, Sirius makes an
appearance: The little laughing dog is
Sirius in Canis Major, marking the growing season which “laughs” bountiful; the
dish and spoon are so full - it is more than we can eat.
In ancient times Sirius was
called the "Star of the Sea," and was depicted as an
inverted pentagram. Some early American flags connected with the Navy displayed
inverted stars, like the one flown by Commodore Perry in 1854. A rare contemporary usage of the
inverted pentagram symbolizing Sirius is
the American Congressional Medal of Honor.
Eight thousand years ago the
Vanir astronomers worked out the geometry and trigonometry necessary to
accurately measure the distance and movement of the stars and planets. They
devised the calendar, named the days of the week, and discovered the accuracy
of the Venus clock – with which we set the world’s clocks until the 1970s.
They also observed the cycle of Sirius and began the year with its pinnacle.
The symbol for the Venus clock, the pentagram, is sometimes used for Sirius. Knowing the time is one thing, knowing when to
start over is another.
Once a year, when Sirius is
opposite the sun, it rises when the sun sets. This marks a new beginning: A new
year rings in at midnight, the moment it reaches its highest point in the sky on
the celestial meridian. To us, it is the New Year Star, a blazing reminder that
our orbit starts again.
At this new
beginning, humans like to make a new start. New Year’s resolutions abound, good
intentions are had by all. We promise ourselves we will avoid the seven deadly
sins, be nice to our in-laws, go to the gym three times a week, and give up
that one sweet treat we always regret eating. Sometimes we keep our promises,
sometimes not; but each year Sirius gives us another chance. Another new
As long as we
live the Earth will turn, the sun will rise, and Sirius will start a new year.
This year, promise to do something that will last, something that will create
precious memories, new traditions, or a family legacy. That way, when we are
gone and the sun still rises, something of ourselves will continue; an
immortality of sorts. And have a Happy New Year.