CHARLOTTE, NC, December 26, 2017: Christmas for this year is history so now we look forward to new beginnings in 2018. Researching the history of New Year’s and New Year’s Day, however, it is an extremely interesting story.
The First New Year’s Day celebrations
The earliest record of a new year was in Mesopotamia, c. 2000 B.C., celebrating around the time of the vernal equinox, in mid-March.
New Year’s Day in Rome
New Year’s Day first celebration in Rome was on January 1 153 B.C. Over a hundred years later, in 46 B.C. the Julian calendar became the law of the time. With it, Roman emperor Julius Caesar, officially establishing January 1 as the first day of the year.
Until then, March 1 was the start of the year which is still seen in the names of our months at the end of the year.
Everyone knows that September through December are the last four months of the modern calendar, but using March as the beginning of the year, they originally represented the positions of seven through ten.
Thus, Septem is Latin for “seven,” octo is “eight,” novem is “nine” and decem is “ten.”
A new calendar, a new New Year’s Day
Shortly after becoming emperor of Rome, Julius Caesar declares the traditional calendar should undergo some fixes. The problem was the result of the lunar cycles around which the calendar had been based since the seventh century B.C.
Since the cycles of the moon were not constant, the calendar often fell out of phase with the seasons. Caesar commissioned Sosigenes, an astronomer from Alexandria, to establish a new solar-based calendar similar to the one used in Egypt.
Sogigenes came up with a calculation of 365 and 1/4 days as a year. Using that as his base, Caesar added 67 days to 45 B.C. to make January 1 the new first day of the year.
New Year’s Day in January
In fact, the month of January did not even exist until around 700 B.C. when Numa Pontilius, the second king of Rome, added both January and February.
With Caesar’s new calendar, he made a decree that February would have an extra day, every fourth year in order to keep the year in sync due to the extra 1/4th day. A Leap Year.
Shortly before his assassination on the steps of the Roman senate, Caesar made the name of the month called Quintilis Julius which has since become July. Not long after, the month of Sextilis became Augustus, now August, after Julius Caesar’s successor Augustus.
What’s an extra day? A Leap Year
Practice makes perfect so they say, and, by the Middle Ages, New Year’s once again encountered a phasing problem. It seems that Julius Caesar and Sosigenes’ calculations were off by 11 minutes adding extra time to a year.
Thus by the year 1000, seven days had been added to the millennium with a total of 10 additional days by the mid-15th-century.
By the early 16th century, Pope Gregory XIII got involved with Jesuit astronomer Christoper Clavius to correct the situation. Enter the Gregorian calendar in 1582 which is the one still in use today. The pope eliminated 10 days for that year and established a new rule that only one of every four centennial years should be designated as a leap year.
For the most part, today the rest of the world observes the Gregorian calendar as the method of marking days throughout the year.
A calendar by any other name, still marks time
Of course, the Chinese calendar continues to be different and the Muslim calendar is still based upon lunar cycles which is why the Islamic year is much shorter and why Ramadan falls earlier than it did the previous year.
During the period when the Julian calendar was in dispute, one of several Catholic Councils of Tours, this one in 567, abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. Consequently, at various times, in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was on Christmas day, December 25th.
Even the Gregorian calendar was only gradually accepted, eventually gaining favor throughout the Christian world.
Britain, in fact, did not adopt the new calendar until 1752, and, as such, until then, even the American colonies were still recognizing the new year as being in March.
Of course, as any good football fan knows, if American football had existed back then, the new year’s problem would have been solved much sooner and with considerably less debate by using bowl games as the point of origin.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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