Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Meditations on a New Year

You know you've been reading too many Regency romances when you wake up on New Year's Day and think it's 1814 instead of 2014.

Of course, when you're a writer and don't have a day job, you don't really have to know exactly what day it is, but this is the first time I've been off by two centuries. And it's not that I have the slightest desire to go back in time. One of my hobbies is genealogy, and it is a sobering thought that there was a time in Massachusetts when they hanged Quakers. My father's ancestors came from England to Massachusetts in 1635, as a church group with their minister. My mother's ancestors were Quakers; they came to Pennsylvania in 1682 as part of William Penn's "Welcome" fleet. (The Welcome was his ship; they were on The Lamb, which sounds funnier if you say it out loud.) As far as the English were concerned, both sets of ancestors were criminals. Having grown up in a country with religious freedom, I have trouble thinking of religious dissent as a criminal action, but England collected taxes to support a state church (to which, ironically, I belong). My paternal great-grandfather came from London, and the women who married into the family all took their husbands' religion and raised the children in it.

Another thing floating through my mind today is that January 1st is a very arbitrary time for the New Year. It would make more sense to set it back eleven days to the Winter Solstice, when the days begin to get longer. Or there's always the Spring Equinox; there was a time when the year started on March 25. This gives us dates like 26 Feb 1750/1751, which was when my 5th-great-grandparents got married. For us it was 1751, for them it was still 1750, and to make things more confusing, they were married in a Quaker meeting. Quakers did not approve of days and months named after pagan gods, so for them it was the 26th day of the 12th month of 1750. Some of their confused descendants think they were married in December. (One of my friends quoted some Elizabethan prophecy about the "ninth month" after 9/11, and I pointed out that at the time of that prophecy, the ninth month was November. Just look at the prefixes: Sept; Oct; Nov; Dec.)

I don't really make New Year's Resolutions, but I do have a goal. I would like to be more organized and less exhausted by the end of 2014.

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