New Year’s Day wasn’t always on January 1st
Had history happened differently we might not be saying “Happy New Year” at midnight Thursday.
In fact, for thousands of years New Year’s Day was celebrated in March with the coming of spring.
The earliest recording of a new year’s celebration is believed to have been in Babylon in ancient Mesopotamia in 2000 B.C.
It was celebrated around the time of the Vernal (Spring) Equinox which is mid-March.
In many long-ago societies, springtime was associated with the renewal of life by way of rebirth with the f lowering of plants and planting of crops.
Babylonian celebrations lasted over a week with about 11 days observed, each having a different celebratory theme.
January New Year
Things changed, as they often did, with the Romans.
In ancient Rome March 1 was the date designated as the new year.
The early Roman calendar was a lunar calendar and had just 10 months, beginning with March.
The new year wasn’t celebrated on Jan. 1 until 153 B.C.
In fact, the month of January did not even exist until around 700 B.C., when the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, added both January and February to the calendar.
The new year was moved from March to January because that was the beginning of the civil year, the month that the newly elected Roman officials began their one-year tenure.
However this date was not strictly or widely observed by all Roman citizens
In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced the solar-based calendar which was named the Julian calendar in his honor.
The Julian calendar was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman lunar calendar.
It decreed the new year would occur with Jan. 1.
Within the Roman world, which eventually stretched from the British Isles to Egypt, Jan. 1 became the start of the new year.
But the Romans weren’t through tinkering.
Two new months got added, each commemorating a famous Roman ruler, July for Julius Caesar and August for Augustus Caesar.
March New Year
In medieval Europe, however, the celebrations accompanying the new year were considered pagan and unchristian like, and in 567 A.D. the Council of Tours abolished Jan. 1 as the beginning of the year.
At various times, and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on Dec. 25, March 1, March 25, and Easter.
In 1582, the Gregorian calendar reform restored Jan. 1 as New Year’s day.
Although most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately, it was only gradually adopted among Protestant countries.
The British did not adopt the reformed calendar until 1752. Until then, the British Empire —and their American colonies— still celebrated the new year in March.