The New Year did not always begin on January 1. New Year’s Day was celebrated on different dates throughout history. In some ages and places, January 1 started another year, but in other places and ages, a new year began on December 25 or March 1 or some other date. In early England and its American colonies, March 25 was New Year’s Day, which strikes me as odd. I may be conditioned by the January 1 date, but it only seems natural to begin a new year as a new month begins. March 1 or April 1 seem to be possibilities for another year, especially since these are days of spring in the northern hemisphere when we see the earth being renewed.
In England and America January 1 became New Year’s Day in 1752 as England adopted the Gregorian calendar. Trivia question: When was a year not a year-long? The answer: 1751. The British parliament passed a law adopting the Gregorian calendar in 1750 mandating that the year 1751, which began on March 25, would end on December 31 with the next year beginning on January 1, 1752. Thus, 1751 in England was only 282 days long.
There is another answer to that trivia question, however. The Julian calendar in use in England was not quite accurate, something that had been recognized during the Middle Ages. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII adopted the more accurate Gregorian calendar, which had January 1 as a year’s starting point. (What are the odds? Gregory adopted the Gregorian calendar.) This deletion required the elimination of ten days so that 1582 is also a year that was not year-long.
Of course, because the Pope made this change — even though it was a good one — many Protestant countries resisted it, apparently thinking that if the Antichrist was behind it, then it could not be all good. Eventually, of course, other countries recognized that the Gregorian calendar was not some sort of devilish trick and adopted the new style of dating—even the British.
Today countries that had used different calendars have adopted the Gregorian calendar, including Japan, Egypt, Korea, Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. New Year’s Day starts at the stroke of midnight on January 1, and it is the most celebrated time around the world as billions are excited by fireworks, whistles, and bells, local time of course.
Even though I don’t understand why we celebrate the day, come Sunday, I, too, will be saying “Happy New Year!”