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Published on Jan 2, 2014 in Europe, News, slider

The Origin of New Year’s Day

Photo from breathingspaces.net

Photo from breathingspaces.net

New Year’s Day hasn’t always been observed on January 1st. In fact, the early Roman calendar designated March 1st as the start of the new year. Instead of twelve months, the Roman calendar had just ten months, beginning in March. Therefore, September through December in the Roman calendar would have been the seventh through the tenth months. This is reflected in the naming of the months with septem being Latin for seven, octo for eight, novem for nine, and decem for ten.

It wasn’t until 153 BC, when the second king of Rome added January and February to the calendar, that the new year moved from March to January. Originally, New Year’s Day was dedicated to Janus, the Roman god of gates, doors, and beginnings. In fact, that’s where the month of January gets its name. A little over a century later, in 46 BC, Julius Caesar introduced a solar-based calendar to replace the less accurate lunar system. This Julian calendar decreed that January 1st would be the first day of the year.

January 1st remained the first day of the year until 567, when the Council of Tours abolished it as the beginning of the year. In Medieval times the Church considered celebrations on New Year’s Day to be pagan, and therefore abolished it as the beginning of the year. In its place the new year was celebrated on either December 25th, with the birth of Jesus; March 1st, the Feast of the Annunciation, or on March 25th, Easter.

For the next millennium January 1st was not considered the first day of the new year. That changed in 1582 when the Gregorian calendar re-instituted January 1st as New Year’s Day. But adoption of this date was not immediate. Catholic countries, for example, immediately adopted January 1st as New Year’s Day. Protestant countries, only gradually. Until 1752 the British Empire, which included its colonies in America, still celebrated the new year in March. However, over time, with the prevalence of the Gregorian calendar, January 1st came to be acknowledged as the first day of the year.

Alan Refkin

Happy New Year!

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