Why we celebrate New Year's Day on Jan. 1

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, AccuWeather staff writer

Much of the world is preparing to ring in a new year with a fresh start, resolutions and celebrations with family and friends.

Have you ever wondered why we celebrate New Year’s Day on Jan. 1?

It was celebrated for the first time on this date in 45 B.C. on the Julian calendar.

The Julian calendar

“In those days, the then-observed Roman calendar had only 10 months, so March 1 was New Year’s Day,” said Michael Hart, a political, cultural and history radio commentator and author.

“[Ancient] Mesopotamia instituted the concept of this celebration about 2,000 years before the birth of Christ,” Hart added.

In March, Babylonians would follow the first new moon following the vernal equinox, celebrating the new year with a festival called Akitu, according to historians.

The new date of Jan. 1 took effect after Julius Caesar, not long after becoming Rome’s dictator, decided that the traditional Roman calendar was in need of serious changes.

The previously used Roman calendar, which was introduced sometime during the seventh century B.C., comprised 12 lunar months of 29 or 30 days, which added up to 355 days each year.

Prior to 45 B.C., the Roman calendar faced issues including abuse by those who oversaw it, in the form of adding days to interfere with elections or prolong a leader’s political rule.

An attempt for the calendar to follow the lunar cycle was also fruitless, as the calendar often needed correcting after falling out of phase with the seasons, according to historians.

Heeding the advice of Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes, Caesar opted to forgo the lunar cycle in favor of following the solar year, like the Egyptians at that time.

Julius Caesar updated the Roman calendar in 45 B.C., when the Julian calendar went into effect. (Photo/Pixabay/NakNakNak)

Under the Julian calendar, the year totaled 365 and one-quarter days, and Caesar also added a day to February every four years.

Although the Julian calendar was widely used, some areas still chose to use dates in March and September to mark the start of a new year.

During the Middle Ages, celebrating New Year’s Day on Jan. 1 fell out of practice.

"According to some sources, New Year’s Day was also celebrated on Dec. 25 and March 25, but reestablished on Jan. 1 by Pope Gregory XIII,” said historian Nicole DeRise.

The Gregorian calendar

In the 1570s, the Roman church became aware of an issue with Caesar’s and Sosigenes’ calculation of the solar year’s correct value. The error caused seven days to be added to the calendar by the year 1000 and 10 days to be added by the mid-15th century, historians reported.

To solve the issue, Pope Gregory XIII proposed that a new calendar be implemented, and the Gregorian calendar went into effect in 1582.

The calendar deleted 10 days from the calendar that year, and because the Julian calendar had more leap years than needed, Pope Gregory XIII also established a rule that a leap year would occur only one of every four centennial years.

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European Catholic countries immediately accepted the Gregorian calendar, but Protestant and Eastern Orthodox lands resisted the change.

This meant that some countries and colonies, including Britain until 1752 and Russia until 1918, continued to use the Julian calendar for some time.

Since the Gregorian calendar came into effect, much of the world has recognized New Year’s Day on Jan. 1, although many cultures celebrate the start of a new year on different dates throughout the year.

Each culture, whether ancient or modern, holds New Year’s observances based on their religious or theological beliefs, according to Hart.

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