Why is New Year’s Day celebrated on January 1?
AUSTIN (KXAN) – It happens every year like clockwork, literally: New Years Day. Every culture on Earth celebrates the New Year at some point. In the United States, we celebrate January 1st. But why this day when there are so many other suitable days?
“The months of the year tend to be really arbitrary depending on the culture,” said University of Texas associate professor of religious studies Brent Landau. âA really interesting feature of life on Earth is that we have these different seasons. ”
Landau says that for some cultures the New Year begins when the seasons change.
âSome cultures have chosen to start their new year on the equinox, which makes a lot of sense,â he explained. The spring and fall equinoxes are the only days of the year when we have the same amount of sun as at night. While the winter and summer solstices are the shortest and longest days of the year.
âWhat we do is start closer to the start of winter. It’s the winter solstice, âsaid Landau.
But, our calendar year begins more than a week after the solstice. Why is that?
Why is our year 365 days?
âJanuary 1 has become our New Year’s Day thanks to the great history relay chain,â said Kevin S. Lee, a graduate student studying ancient cultures at the University of Texas. According to Lee, the solar calendar we use today was first developed by the ancient Egyptians.
A solar calendar is based on the time it takes the Earth to orbit the sun. A solar year is not perfect. It takes 365 days 5 hours 48 minutes and 46 seconds for this orbit to complete.
During this time, the moon goes through twelve lunar phases, which is why we have twelve months. A lunar phase is the time it takes for the moon to go back to full again again. It takes about 29 days for this to happen.
How politics influenced New Years Day
There is no real start of a solar year, the closest times would be the start of the seasons, which brings us back to why to start the year on January 1st.
The ancient Romans were originally ten months old, the year starting in March, named for Mars the god of war. When they realized that there were actually twelve lunar cycles in a year, they added two months: January and February.
âThe Romans previously made January 1 the first day of their civic year,â Lee said. “It was the day they took the oath of office to the consuls, the principal magistrates elected each year of the Roman Republic.” Basically, the year began on the day of the inauguration.
For the Romans, their inauguration day was originally in March, much closer to the spring equinox. However, Lee said a crisis forced the country to postpone its election for two whole months until Jan. 1. This is why December, which translates to the 10th month, is now our 12th month.
Fixing the timetable
The Egyptian calendar is not perfect. By the time of Julius Caesar, several days had been lost. Remember that a solar year is not a perfect 365 day period. Caesar ordered that the schedule be revised. (It will then be revised again in the 1500s, when a leap year was added to account for the imperfect solar year.)
Caesar kept the start of the year in January. Partly by tradition and partly because January is named after the Roman god of beginnings, Janus. However, the day still did not fall on the solstice.
“By the time they sort of sorted it all out, the calendar days had kind of bounced back enough that everyone was like, okay we got it, it’s pretty close,” said Pram.
Not everyone celebrates New Years on January 1st
Despite all of this maneuvering and calendar hopscotch, many cultures around the world still celebrate their New Years at different times. Chinese New Year follows a lunar calendar and begins between late January and early February. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is celebrated in September.
âIf we were ancient Babylonians, we would celebrate the New Year around mid-March. If we were Greeks living in ancient Athens, between July and August. If we were if we were ancient Egyptians, Assyrians or Persians, usually from mid-September to the end of September, âLee said.
Finally, until the calendar revisions in the 1500s, many European Christians celebrated the New Year closer to the spring equinox on March 25. It was done because it was exactly nine months before Christmas when Christ was born.