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Star Sirius, Torchbearer of the New Year

No less a fixture than the tolling bells and fireworks that bring in the New Year, brilliant Sirius, the brightest star of the night sky, is truly the star of the hour. Sirius celebrates its favorite holiday by culminating due south at the stroke of midnight, annually proclaiming the birth of the New Year, year after year.

As a calendar, few, if any, stars can hold a candle to Sirius. Indeed, Sirius gave the world the Gregorian calendar, which is but a variation of the accurate calendar used by the Egyptians many thousands of years ago. Historians tell us that observant Egyptian astronomers noted Sirius' yearly return to the dawn sky always coinciding with the annual flooding of the Nile River. Since this water source was the lifeblood of this highly developed agricultural nation, a stellar calendar capable of predicting the river's flooding was adopted over lunar calendars of lesser reliability. Hence, be it by chance or design, the beacon light of Sirius not only signaled the arrival of the New Year in ancient Egypt, but coincidentally enough, still ushers in the New Year today.

In its variegated history as a calendar star, Sirius' midnight culmination is believed to have launched the yearly celebration of the Eleusinian mysteries in ancient Greece. The star, as well as the Eleusinian mystery itself, probably symbolized the annual cycle of death and rebirth in nature, furthermore representing the immortality of the soul.

Sirius is also called the Dog Star. Six months, or one half year, from New Year's Day, Sirius culminates due south at noon instead of midnight, a portent of the "Dog Days" of summer. At one time it was thought -- erroneously so, according to modern astronomy -- that the combined heat of the Sun and Sirius gave rise to the sweltering days that bred disease and discomfort.

Yet, if scintillating Sirius (Greek for scorcher) could be blamed for the oppressive heat of a summer day, why not credit Sirius, at least to some small extent, for alleviating the bitter cold of a New Year's winter night?

Sirius & Lake Titicaca

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