Let’s celebrate New Year – but when?
In most of the Western world January 1st marks the beginning of the New Year. But have you ever wondered why that is so? The Chinese New Year for example in 2019 will be the Year of the Pig and will be celebrated on 5th February. Indeed the Chinese New Year is not celebrated on the same date each year. The first day of Chinese New Year begins on the new moon that appears between January 21 and February 20.
So why is the UK New year on 1st January each year? The answer begins, like so many major events in our history, with the Romans. Soon after becoming Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar decided that the traditional Roman calendar was in dire need of reform. Introduced around the seventh century B.C., the Roman calendar attempted to follow the lunar cycle but frequently fell out of phase with the seasons and had to be corrected. In addition, the pontifices, the Roman body charged with overseeing the calendar, often abused its authority by adding days to extend political terms or interfere with elections.
In designing his new calendar, Caesar enlisted the aid of Sosigenes, an Alexandrian astronomer, who advised him to do away with the lunar cycle entirely and follow the solar year, as did the Egyptians. The year was calculated to be 365 and 1/4 days, and Caesar added 67 days to 45 B.C., making 46 B.C. begin on January 1, rather than in March. He also decreed that every four years a day be added to February, thus theoretically keeping his calendar from falling out of step. So in 45 B.C., New Year’s Day was celebrated on January 1 for the first time in history as the Julian calendar took effect. Shortly before his assassination in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar changed the name of the month Quintilis to Julius (July) after himself. Later, the month of Sextilis was renamed Augustus (August) after his successor.
Celebration of New Year’s Day in January fell out of favour during the Middle Ages, and even those who tried to adhere to the Julian calendar did not observe the New Year exactly on January 1. The reason for the latter was that Caesar and Sosigenes failed to calculate the correct value for the solar year as 365.242199 days, not 365.25 days. Thus, an 11-minute-a-year error added seven days by the year 1000, and 10 days by the mid-15th century, making a complete mess of the calendar.
The Roman church became aware of this problem, and in the 1570s Pope Gregory XIII commissioned Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius to come up with a new calendar. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar was implemented, omitting 10 days for that year and establishing the new rule that only one of every four centennial years should be a leap year. Since then, people around the world have gathered together on January 1 to celebrate the arrival of the New Year.
Age Concern Liverpool & Sefton would like to wish all of our readers a Very Happy New Year.