New Year’s Eve comes but once a year on December 31, the last day of the last month of what usually feels like the longest year ever but somehow passed too quickly.
Most of us give little thought as to why we ceremoniously say goodbye to one year and hello to a new one on December 31. Even those who don’t make special plans to greet the arrival of a new year at the stroke of midnight on December 31 pay homage to the rite with thoughts of the year gone by and hopes for the year to come.
Why do we end each year on December 31 and begin a new one January 1 anyway?
History of New Year's Eve
New Year’s Eve on December 31 marks the final day of what is known as a Gregorian calendar year. Prior to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar as the global standard, most of the ancient world ran on many different and diverse calendaring systems to track the passage of time.
The Gregorian calendar we use today was introduced by the Vatican in Rome under Pope Gregory XIII in October 1582. The Gregorian calendar is based on the solar year and replaced an ancient Roman calendar that was based on the lunar cycle of the earth’s moon. The Gregorian calendar is a modified version of the Julian calendar that was introduced by Roman Emperor Julius Caesar during his reign around 44 B.C, at the suggestion of Greek astronomer and mathematician Sosigenes of Alexandria.
The transition from a lunar cycle calendar to a solar year calendar on October 4, 1582 necessitated that a few days be eliminated. The day after October 4, 1582 was therefore declared by Pope Gregory to be October 15, 1582. Don’t ask us what happened to all the poor souls whose birthdays were on October 5 – 14 prior to the year 1582.
Along with the implementation of a new calendar on October 4, 1582, the pope also decreed that each year would officially begin on January 1 instead of April 1 as had been the custom under the old lunar calendar system. This decision had no actual astronomical basis and was influenced by the ancient feast celebrating the Roman god Janus, the god of doorways and beginnings. The first of January seemed like a good starting over point on a new calendar.