Fun Facts About the History of New Years

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Written By Samuel Laurie

At least 2016 didn’t sneak a few extra days in.


As the year draws to a close and the usual New Year’s events and messages cover all that we see, let’s take a slight detour from the current trend of looking into the future and look far into the past; at the history of the cultures and inconsistent calendars that have brought us to the current way of celebrating this passage of time.

Early New Years

Before people got serious about calendars, the start of the New Year was based around harvest. And so was different depending on where in the world you were and what you were growing. The Babylonian’s celebrated the New Year in mid-March. Babylonians were reportedly the first to make new year’s resolutions. Their resolutions involved promising the gods to pay back debts and return borrowed items. The gods destroying everything is pretty good motivation to keep a New Year’s resolution.

Roman New Years

2016 may have had its flaws but at least it wasn’t known as the ‘year of confusion’.

In 46BC Julius Caesar added changed the Roman calendar in order to remove issues with following the lunar cycle. Another factor for changing it was to stop those in charge of the yearly calendar changing it to favour themselves politically. The year starting on the first of January was due to that being the start of the new political year. True to Roman tradition January is named for the God Janus.

The two-headed god, whose spirit inhabits doorways, looks symbolically back at the previous year and ahead into the future – at the same time. The Romans made sacrifices and promises of good behaviour; an early style new year’s resolution.

Middle Ages’ New Year

During the Middle Ages, the date of the New Year changed due to a calculation error in the Julian calendar. This 11-minute error resulted in 10 extra days by the mid 15th century. At least 2016 didn’t sneak a few extra days in before it becomes history. The Roman Catholic Church noticed the issue, and Pope Gregory XIII delegated the issue to one of his many minions. His name goes down in history with the (current) Gregorian calendar named after him. Who says you have to do everything yourself to become famous? And the start of the New Year went back to being January 1st in 1582. Britain and her colonies were a bit slow on adopting this new calendar and didn’t get on the January 1st bandwagon until 1752.

The coming of a New Year doesn’t mean that everything will change. You only need to look at 90’s and early 2000’s fashion to see how some things take longer than the fireworks to change. However, over time things do change and having hope is important. So here’s to 2017 being at least a bit better than 2016 and resolutions lasting a week longer than they did last year.