January 14, 2011

Old New Year – Slavic Countries

According to the Julian calendar, the New Year doesn't start until today. So I guess you could say this is another chance to set New Year's Resolutions – this time, make them ones you can really keep!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, different countries adopted the Gregorian calendar at different times. The Slavic countries were latecomers to the switchover, and even after they made the change, the Eastern Orthodox Church continued to use the Julian calendar in the 20th Century.

These days, many people in Slavic countries such as Macedonia, Russia, Serbia, Armenia, Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (...and I could go on and on!) still celebrate Old New Year. Rather than a festive holiday with fireworks, like January 1, Old New Year tends to be a quieter, nostalgic holiday with traditional large meals and family sing-alongs.

These girls are wearing Macedonian folk costumes.

Old New – an Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that contains two contradictory terms. “Old New Year” has a meaning, sure—it's the day that the Old calendar marked as the New Year—but it sounds funny when you are not familiar with it.

Here are some familiar oxymorons. Notice that, although you might know the meaning of the terms, they are kind of weird when you stop to think about their contradictions:
  • jumbo shrimp
  • the living dead
  • virtual reality
  • extremely average
  • a dark light
  • an open secret
  • a new classic
  • deafening silence
  • friendly fire
  • sweet sorrow
  • a silent scream

In literature, an oxymoron can express a paradox or make you think. For example, Romeo says:
"O heavy lightness! Serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!"
This speech tells us about the confusion of Romeo loving someone he is supposed to hate and hints at the fighting and death that have happened and will happen in the play. The paradox of love and violence is caused by the warring families, and Shakespeare uses oxymorons to express that.

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