Why is New Year’s Day on January 1?

Traveleidoscope:  Champagne corks

Ever wondered why the new year starts on January 1 as opposed to say, March 1? Well, in case you’ve ever wondered (and even if you haven’t) here’s why! And by the way, Happy New Year!

We basically have Julius Caesar to thank for January 1 for being the first day of the new year. And why is that? That’s because around 45 B.C. Julius Caesar decided to revamp the 10-month Roman calendar. Why? Because when you’re Julius Caesar, you can! He designated January 1 as the day as the start of the new year since that was the day that the elected high officials, aka, the consuls, would take office. Talk about arbitrary.

There is, however, some debate about whether that’s really what happened. Another version of how January 1 came to be the start of the new year explains that Julius Caesar was trying to follow the lunar calendar, but the calendar kept getting messed up because the lunar cycle was out of sync with the seasons. As a result, Caesar consulted with Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes who told Caesar to follow the solar year like the Egyptians.

So, the Egyptians started the whole leap year thing, huh? Yup. They calculated a year to be 365 and 1/4 days, which, ya know, added a whole day every four years. BUT, the Julian calendar (get it, Julius Caesar?) didn’t always observe the new year on January 1 due to a mathematical error! Whaaat? Uh, huh. Caesar and his buddy Sosigenes, clearly didn’t do the math right and calculated the value for the solar year as 365.242199 days, not 365.25 days!

Later on, in medieval Europe, the Christian church kinda moved the date of the new year around a bit, too, to dates including December 25 (you know, Christmas) and even to March 25, which is the Feast of the Annunciation*. The Church did that to compete with the pagans, who, always up for a party, were celebrating New Year’s Day!

*Feast of the Annunciation: In Christianity, it’s the day when the archangel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary to let her know that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ.

Anyway, in the 1570's Pope Gregory figured out that Caesar and Sosigenes had screwed up the calendar math and decided to fix it by putting the Gregorian calendar into effect (Pope Gregory = Gregorian), making January 1 the first day of the new year. This became generally accepted in most of the Catholic countries in Europe – except for Protestant strongholds like England and the American colonies – they weren’t going for it. They thought it was all religious trickery and continued celebrating New Year’s Day on March 25. It wasn’t until 1752 that England finally came around and made January 1 the official start of the new year. And it’s been that way ever since!

So raise your glass to Caesar and have a happy and healthy new year!

Traveleiddoscope:  Champagne glass

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