At the present time, the beginning of the new year is celebrated by us on the 1st of January. Forty-five years before the Nativity of Christ, the Romans began celebrating the new year on the 1st of January instead of on the 1st of March, as had been done by them previously, and they spent this day in disorderly, noisy games in masquerade and in mindless merriment and abominable debauchery.
According to the beliefs of the pagan Romans, the first moment of the new year had a fateful influence on the whole yearly period of time: whoever would greet and spend the first day of the new year merrily, would live merrily during the course of the whole year; therefore, each one tried to greet and spend the first day of the new year as merrily and dissipatedly as possible. On the eve of the new year, men and women gathered in private houses and in inns in order to greet the new year in society. To be drunk on this day was considered indispensable even for those who did not like to get drunk on wine. Noise, shouting, songs, dances and hand-clapping filled the streets and buildings throughout the whole night. Men dressed up as women, and women, in their turn, did not lag behind the men in the art of disguise. Some put on the heads of cows, deer, dogs and other animals; others dressed up even as demons or assumed the appearance of their pagan gods and goddesses. They walked disguised about the city, from house to house, with noise, songs and dances. Sorcerers of various kinds, soothsayers and augurs, who conjectured by all possible means about the future, never had, perhaps, so many visitors as in this night - the eve of the new year. With the approach of morning, all hurried to one another to exchange greetings, good wishes and gifts on the occasion of the new year; they spent the evening of the day in banquets and amusements.
Hierarch John Chrysostom's denunciations and exhortations and his words at the new year involuntarily come to mind:
"Diabolical revelry," he says, "continuing today throughout the whole night, laughter, evil speech, nocturnal dances and ridiculous buffoonery have taken our city captive... More than anything, the games distress me that take place today in inns, that are filled with intemperance and great impiety - impiety, because those engaged in them observe days, tell fortunes and think that if they spend the first day of this month in amusements and merriments, they will also spend the whole year in the same way - and intemperance, because at daybreak the women and men, having filled up their glasses and cups with wine, get drunk beyond all measure... If you wish to receive benefit from the first day of this month, act thus: When you will see the end of the year, give thanks to the Master that He has led you to such a cyclical rotation of the years, become contrite of heart, reckon the time of your life, say to yourself: the days flow and pass, the years are ending... and what good have we done? ... Philosophize thus at the beginning of months, remember this at the cyclical rotation of the years... To observe days is not a matter of Christian philosophy, but of pagan error."
Indeed, it is strange and unforgivable for a Christian to expect special well-being from the way he greets the new year, forgetting that true happiness and well-being depend not on the cyclical rotation of time, but on the will of God and on the character of our activity; it is unforgivable to anticipate the approach of the new year with noisy banqueting from evening till midnight, to observe customs that are purely pagan and shameful for a true Christian. The greeting of similar days, like the day of the new year, with various indecencies and obscenities, not only testifies to an absence of piety, but also amounts to opposition to Christianity and to the Church.
Source: From "The Pilgrim's Leaflet", No. 43, 1994.