Did you know that the celebration of the new year wasn’t always done on January 1? According to the Infoplease website, the “earliest recording of a new year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia.” Around 2000 B.C., it “was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox, in mid-March.” Also known as the spring equinox, the vernal equinox is the moment when the Sun is exactly above the Equator making day and night of equal length. In our Northern Hemisphere that occurred on March 19 this year, about the time many of us started to shelter in place. In the Southern Hemisphere it occurred on September 22. Other ancient cultures also used other dates to mark the changing of the seasons.
When the “Roman Calendar” came into existence, the New Year began on March 1. The year consisted of ten months, six of 30 days and four having 31 days. It ended in December and accounted for only 304 days in the year. It has been changed and reformed since the original use in Rome. January and February appear to have been added to this calendar around 713 BC. January was named after the sky-god Janus who was the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, passages and endings among other things. He is usually shown with two faces because he looks to the past and to the future. By 153 BC, January 1 became known as the beginning of the new year. Even though Julius Caesar made additional changes in 46 BC, January 1 remained the date for starting the new year.
Celebrations of the new year were often tied to religious events in ancient times. But in the middle ages the celebrations were abolished by the Council of Tours in 567 AD. They considered them to be pagan and unchristian like. So, the new year began to be celebrated at different times and various places in medieval Christian Europe. For example, some used the birth of Jesus on December 25 while others used the “Feast of the Annunciation” in March or even Easter. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar reform restored January 1 as “New Year’s Day.” Most Catholic countries quickly adopted this calendar right away, but many Protestant countries only gradually adopted the reform. As an example, the British did not adopt this calendar until 1752. They, and their American colonies – celebrated the new year in March until that date.
Many traditions have grown surrounding this holiday since. Perhaps the most recognizable is the dropping of a giant ball in New York City’s Time Square. I grew up watching Dick Clark, trying to stay up until the stroke of midnight when the ball would begin its descent. Many other cities created similar events for their communities. They would draw hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators to their venue and millions of people around the world would watch on television. Like many holidays and events, this year New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day will likely be celebrated differently than you did in year’s past. Yet, like me, you’re probably eager to get the year 2020 into the rearview mirror.
In reflecting back on my similar article from last year, I believe this remains accurate. A new year gives us “an opportunity to have a fresh start.” And “It’s a transition. We reflect on the past year both the good and the bad. We establish our intentions for the new year. To do better. Learn from our mistakes. To go into a new year with boundless opportunities and hopes; to be a better person and improve ourselves, enrich our lives and that of our families and our communities. It’s a great time to forgive others. To let go of our angers and resentments. To establish goals and reflect on what’s really important to us.”
2020 has been a difficult year but it also has had positives. This year I intend to reflect on those. If nothing else, the shelter in place restrictions have given me the time and opportunity to do so. However, you intend to celebrate this year, be safe and well.