Happy New Year!

By Sharon Brown (Sharon) on December 31, 2012

Did you ever wonder about special days, how they came to be designated as holidays? Did you know that for years and years March 1 was considered the New Year? Strangely enough, even that long ago, politicians and religious leaders controlled the calendar.

I guess it's best that I warn you ahead of time.  This is going to get  a little confusing.

Mexican Calendar 1790

Around 4000 years ago in Mesopotamia the New Year was celebrated at the time of the vernal equinox, which would be in mid March.  A few hundred years later, the Egyptians and other ancient cultures celebrated during the fall equinox and after the demise of the Egyptian rule, the Greeks celebrated with the winter solstice in December.

So how did New Year's Day get to be on January 1st?

The early Romans celebrated the new year on March 1st, but their years only had 10 months. There was no January nor February.  If you know your Latin, you'll notice that the names of some of the months come from numbers:  septem is Latin for seven, and it originally was the seventh month; octo is eight, novem is nine, and decem is ten.  Those months were the original end of the ten month year.

The months of January and February were nonexistent until around 700 B.C. when for political reasons dictated by the newly elected Roman rulers, the new months were added.  I suppose it was because they wanted their one year tenure to last a little longer.  You know how politicians are.

Ancient Aztec Calendar

Even so it was still a little confusing to the common Romans who lived out of the inner circle of those who know, and some continued to celebrate the new year on March 1st, particularly the old timers.  Of course without the modern means of communication, they probably had no idea that some high ranking politician had changed their lunar calendar.  The first time the new year was celebrated in Rome on January 1 was in 153 B.C. a little more than 500 years after the date had been dictated.  I guess the politicians didn't have the ability to police their areas very quickly, and it took years to order an end to celebrations on the wrong dates.  And maybe the people didn't care when it was anyway, after all a party is a party!

It didn't last long.

Along came Julius Caesar around 46 B.C and he introduced a brand new solar based calendar.  It was a great improvement over the ancient lunar calendar which for scientific reasons had become totally inaccurate over a vast period of time.  Caesar's calendar was named for him, the Julian calendar, and he dictated that the new year would occur on January 1st.  Caesar ruled and so it was.

But only for awhile.  You know what always happens when there is a change in politics.  In medieval Europe it was believed that new year celebrations were pagan and unChristian like and 500 years (567 A.D.) after Ceasar had ruled, the more religious medieval politicians jumped into office and abolished January 1st as the new year.  But the medievalists weren't very consistent or maybe couldn't make up their collective political minds because they celebrated sometimes on December 25, sometimes March 1, sometimes March 25 and confused the whole thing with Christmas and Easter.

Oh, but it just gets worse.  Along came the Gregorian calendar in 1582 and January 1st was once again restored as New Year's Day.  Now the Catholic countries mostly adopted the Gregorian calendar right away, but the Protestant countries poked along for awhile before getting on that bandwagon and it was only very slowly adopted by them.  The British and their American colonies pondered the problem for awhile longer and continued to celebrate New Year's Day on March 1st.  Finally, nearly 200 years later, the British empire and the American colonies decided to celebrate the new year on January 1, 1752.

That said, it's only been a little over 200 years now. You reckon some politician is  going to come along and change it again anytime soon?


Happy New Year!

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New Year

About Sharon Brown
I am a retired art and humanities teacher. I am an artist and I am also a writer who has written a series of articles about the history and medicinal value of Kentucky wildflowers. The articles tell of growing up in the mountains of southeast Kentucky with my great Aunt Bett and Granny Ninna. I currently live in western KY.

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Interesting history Zanymuse Jan 15, 2013 7:32 AM 24

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