2013 Skelly Family Christmas
The Reason for the (New Year's) Season

H appy New Year! How do you feel? Actually, we answered that question way back in the 2009 edition of this page.

Today’s question should really be, “Why do you feel?”

Why do we start the New Year off by getting drunk? Why is it that just when life is supposed to be all about new beginnings and a fresh start, we fall back so resolutely on old, familiar, and self-destructive, ways? And why does a year of life-altering resolutions and lofty goals start off with everybody taking the day off? And devoting it to procrastination, near total inactivity and often immobilizing self-pity?

In point of fact, there is a reason, and it's reasonably high-minded, and it's wreathed in hoary tradition. Roman pagans observed New Year’s by engaging in drunken orgies because they believed it was a personal re-enactment of the chaotic world that existed before the cosmos got itself ordered by the gods. As good an excuse for excessive tippling as any I’ve ever come up with.

The earliest record of New Year’s observance comes from Mesopotamia circa 2000 B.C. It was celebrated around the vernal equinox in mid-March. The Egyptians, Phoenicians and Persians began their new year with the fall equinox. The Greeks celebrated on the winter solstice.

The first time New Year’s was celebrated on January 1 was in 153 B.C. in Rome. (The month of January did not even exist until around 700 B.C.) It was set then because January 1 was the day the two newly elected Roman consuls began their one-year tenure. Even this observance wasn’t strictly followed, however.

In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar that was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman calendar, which was lunar based and had become wildly inaccurate over time. The Julian calendar set the start of the New Year on January 1, and that became the date consistently recognized through the Roman world.

In medieval Europe, New Year’s celebrations came to be considered unchristian, and in 567 the Council of Tours abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. But in time it was restored once again with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582.

Most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately; it took root more gradually among Protestant countries. The British did not adopt it until 1752, and until then the American colonies celebrated New Year's in March.

How did champagne get into the mix? It’s a long, liquid story.

"Auld Lang Syne"
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll tak a cup o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine,
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

Fifth Annual Skelly Family Christmas Video

In the late fifth century, King Clovis of northern France promised his wife that if he won his next battle he would convert to Christianity. In 496 he was baptized in the city of Reims, in the heart of France’s Champagne region.

For centuries afterward, that’s where French kings were traditionally crowned, but it was a trek from Paris for the royal court and hangers on, so after the coronation they’d hang around the region for a while and sample the local wines.

Back then there was no aging process. Wines were consumed quickly and locally, and they were “still,” not effervescent. In time, as more wine was exported, new barrels stayed unopened longer. And when they were opened, the wine inside would be fizzy. Yeasts fermented the drink, consuming the grape sugars. The result was sparkling wine with a distinctive flinty taste. It caught on in a flash.

The Champagne region had distribution advantages. Its major towns were located on rivers, and water was then the shipping highway to the world. Makers sent their wine not only to the French court in Paris but also to England and Holland—coastal areas too far north to grow their own grapes.

By the end of the 17th century the French monk Dom Perignon started packaging his abbey’s champagne in bottles, helping to maintain the bubbly’s sparkle. He also figured out how to stopper the bottles with corks and how to secure the corks with string.

The French court, where every night was New Year's Eve, eventually turned champagne into the national drink of France. They proclaimed it a light and beneficial beverage. It was also a lot of fun. Recognizing a good thing, merchants in Champagne began switching over from wool, cloth and other local commodities to producing sparkling wine.

With champagne known to so please the royals in France and England, producers began promoting their sparkling wines in the other major cities of Europe—in time going as far as Russia and the U.S.

With the rise of industrialization in the 19th century, Champagne producers began pitching their product to the nouveau riche of the merchant class. These new customers had neither the wealth nor the time to consume champagne on a daily basis, but they took to it for special occasions. Soon they were ordering champagne for all kinds of celebrations. Like ringing in the New Year.

The verbal Champagne canapés above were lifted from a very entertaining article by Bloomberg writer Becky Sue Epstein. The whole article can be found at: Why Do We Drink Champagne on New Year’s Eve?

Becky says, “We enjoy seeing the froth of the wine as it fills our glass, and we delight in watching the magically renewing bubbles as we drink. Champagne tingles on the tongue, and its fizz seems to carry aromas and flavors straight to our heads.” She adds that people rarely drink too much champagne because in addition to price considerations, it’s not easy to consume bubbles fast.

Yeah. She should come by my house. Or the houses of a lot of people I know.

Last Year's Index:
Dec. 10-3.0   Dec. 15-3.28   Dec. 20-3.53   Dec. 25-3.49
This Year:
Dec. 10-4.48   Dec. 15-4.13   Dec. 20-4.18   Right now: 4:01

The Story Thus Far ...

Current Christmas Spirit breakdown:

Fully half of visitors appear to be in the tertiary rush stage of some really fine Mexican colitas. What an upbeat crowd! The initial presumption was the YC alum voters were just a bunch of jolly midwesterners, but that was wrong on two counts. The geographic dispersion was broader than expected. And folks are in a really good mood. Are we reading the same newspapers? Don't you people watch Fox? We'll see what happens next week, although with Congress out for Christmas break, what could go wrong?

Perhaps there's been by now enough waiting on checkout lines or navigating bumper-to-bumper mall traffic or battling undeserved setbacks in lighting the bushes or trimming the tree. The aggregate holiday spirit is recalibrating, now settled back to about 4.1. Still high historically. Is there more in store? The next ten days will tell how well we play through pain. Should peak at the end though. After all, it's going to be Christmas.

People seem to be in a rut. And rather contentedly so. Have they at long last achieved that inner calm so prized by eastern mystics, just in time for the holidays? Or do they just not have a clue what kind of shape we're really in here? Or have they gotten to where it just doesn't matter? Who cares? Merry Christmas, everybody.

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