Q: Why does your paper start its horoscope listing with Aries, which covers those born from mid-March to mid-April? Shouldn’t you start with Capricorn, which includes New Year’s Day?
Marvin T., of Troy
A: Listen, if you had celebrated New Year’s Day on Jan. 1 thousands of years ago, people would have thought you had broken into the holiday champagne three months early.
I mean, really, could there be a sillier time than Jan. 1 to celebrate the start of a new year (especially around St. Louis)? It’s the start of the dead of winter, the days are short and cold, and the outside is barren of color — when not covered in ice and snow. There’s absolutely nothing special about this arbitrary date except maybe it’s the perfect time to have a wild party.
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That’s why I’d argue that many of our ancient ancestors, even though they lacked cars, computers and Chia Pets, were far more intelligent by picking the spring equinox as their New Year’s Day. You have to admit it’s much more logical. Why not start a new year when new life returns to the landscape for another go-round?
That’s what the Babylonians of ancient Mesopotamia did an estimated 4,000 years ago. In the first known New Year’s wingding, they would get together in mid-March to boogie in Babylon during an 11-day festival known as Akitu to toast the rebirth of the natural world.
Likewise, as early as 600 B.C. those living in what is modern Iran held the 13-day Nowruz (“New Day”) shindig, probably as part of the Zoroastrian religion. Even the Romans are thought to have celebrated New Year’s Day on the first of spring until the powers-that-be started fiddling with the calendar to extend their terms in office. Finally in 153 B.C. it was declared that Jan. 1 would begin the new year.
Astrologers, however, have refused to follow suit. Read any explanation of their calendar of star signs and you’ll see that Aries continues to lead off each year because it represents a new beginning to them just as it did to the Babylonians.
“The spring equinox, March 21, is the beginning of the new zodiacal year and Aries, the first sign, is therefore that of new beginnings,” it says at astrology-online.com. “The young ram is adventurous, ambitious, impulsive, enthusiastic and full of energy.”
And newspaper editors don’t want to butt heads with something like that when publishing horoscopes.
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Answer to Sunday’s trivia: On 168 “serene” acres in the heart of Smyrna, Tenn., you still can tour the boyhood home of Sam Davis, a Confederate “boy hero” in the eyes of the Sam Davis Memorial Association. In November 1863, he was caught carrying papers stolen from Union Gen. Grenville Dodge. He denied being a spy, saying he was only carrying papers stolen by another. But when Davis refused to name his accomplice, he was hanged within a week of his capture. Davis, who had just turned 21, said, “I would rather die a thousand deaths than betray a friend.”