Happy New Year: A little History!

History of New Years

The history of New Years stems all back to 46 B.C.E with the Roman emperor Julius Caesar.  Caesar established the Julian calendar.  He dedicated the first month, January, to the Roman god of doors and gates, Janus.  Janus had two faces, one forward and one backward.  This analogy seemed appropriate in creating January the first month.

Through out history, the concept of New Years has been influenced by several things: spread of Christianity, incorporation of pagan holidays, establishment of the leap year, and a historical coronation.  In early medieval period, March 25  was actually observed as the New Year.  This was the day angel Gabriel told Mary she is to conceive Jesus. New Year was moved back to January 1 in 1066 with William the Conqueror.  William wanted to align himself with Jesus.  William was crowned King of England on December 25, 1066 (Jesus’ birthday) and declared January 1 as the New Year (Jesus’ circumcision).

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII rejected the Julian calendar and adopted the Gregorian calendar, the calendar we use today.  However this move highlighted the slight inaccuracy of the Julian calendar in which a solar year is 365.25 days.  Over centuries, the seasons slipped one day per century.  To align seasons with dates again, the Gregorian calendar added 10 more days.  The Pope declared that after October 4, 1582  the following day would being October 15, 1582.  This change restored the vernal equinox to March 11.  Since then, every four years, one day is added to adjust for 0.25 days and keep the seasons aligned with the equinox.

The concept of making New Year resolutions can be credited to ancient Babylonians.  During Akitu, a massive 12 day religious festival in mid-March, Babylonians crowned a new king or aligned loyalty to the existing, promised to pay debts, return borrowed objects, and made promises to their gods.  Romans and Christians practiced similarly customs. Today, making resolutions is secular in nature despite having religious origins.

The first to ring in 2018 will be the tiny pacific island of Tonga.  Baker Island and Howland Island will be among the last-if people lived here.  American Samoa will be second to last celebrating New Years a full 25 hours after Tonga.  Tonga and American Samoa are only 558 miles from each other.  An adventurous soul could get a quick flight and celebrate 2018 twice!

Happy New Year!