What is New Year’s Day?
January 1, is New Year’s Day, it’s a time of optimism and planning—and resoluteness. There’s a feeling that maybe this year we’ll make the changes we’ve been meaning to: more rest, better eating habits, more exercise, or a new job. New Year’s Day is about taking a moment — perhaps with family or a football game on the screen — to get ready for everything that is about to unfold.
10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1… Happy New Year.
History of New Year’s Day
In the United States and many other countries around the world, January 1, the first day of the Gregorian calendar, ushers in a new year replete with New Year’s resolutions and promises to do better than in the year before. The day begins with hangover concoctions for some and for others, prayers of gratitude for surviving to see a new year filled with promise. But how did this holiday begin? It’s a very old story.
Most civilizations aligned their calendars with the moon. The ancient Mesopotamians and Babylonians observed the new year over 4000 years ago. For them, a new year followed the phases of the moon and the vernal equinox — when sunlight and darkness were equally balanced.
The Babylonians ritualized the vernal equinox with Akitu, a religious observance spanning 11 days. The Egyptians marked the new year with the flooded waters of the Nile and the star, Sirius. To this very day, the Chinese New Year arrives with the second new moon after the winter solstice.
The evolution from the lunar calendar to today’s Gregorian calendar commences with the early Roman calendar devised by Romulus, allegedly suckled by wolves who, along with his brother, Remus, founded Rome. The original Roman calendar was introduced in the 8th century at the start of the vernal equinox (when the light and the darkness is equal, remember?) with ten months and 304 days. Another Roman king, Numa Pompilius added Januarius and Februarius.
Most historians credit the Roman emperor, Julius Caesar, with developing the Julian calendar, designating January 1 as the start of a new year. The Gregorian calendar, which many nations around the world use today, arrived in 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII aligned the calendar, not with the moon, but with the earth’s rotation around the sun — marking 365 days.