New Year’s Day

Who decided that January 1 is the beginning of the new year? That’s a tricky question because not everyone agrees with that date. In fact, the start of the new year has been determined by religious and political forces. There is actually no rationale that can be used to justify January 1 as anything other than just another date on the calendar.

Throughout history, various dates have signified the beginning of the new year. Perhaps the most rational date for the beginning of the new year would be on the date of the March equinox when the spring season begins in the Northern Hemisphere, of the September equinox in the Southern Hemisphere.

The original calendars only had 10 months beginning in March. Two new months, January and February, were added later at the end of the year. Calendars and their months became a political issue. It was Julius Caesar in 16BC who designated January 1 to be the beginning of the New Year. Subsequent Roman emperors wanted the new year to begin on their birthdays.

Most European countries adopted January 1 as the beginning of the new year in the 16th century. The American colonies didn’t designate January 1 as the beginning of the new year until the 18th century.

Of all our days of celebration, New Year’s Day is perhaps the most distinctive for the diversity of its traditions. Auld lang syne was a folk song passed down from generation to generation in Scotland until Robert Burns captured the words on paper. The original melody has changed since it was originally sung. The song began as a Scottish tradition and then spread throughout the British Empire. Musical performances have become a staple of New Year’s Day celebrations.

Parades, football games, and other events have been added to New Year’s Day celebrations over time. Our national parks now sponsor first-day hikes. Polar bear plunges have become charity fundraisers in some locations. New Year’s babies are featured in many newspapers. In Antarctica, on New Year’s Day, the statue designating the location of the geographic south pole is relocated each year to reflect the movement of the ice.

Beginnings often have a long history. We tend to think of beginnings as having a definite origination but that is rarely the case. January 1 is so accepted today as the beginning of the new year that few of us even think of its history.

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“Tomorrow is the blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” – Brad Paisley (country music songwriter, musician, and West Virginian)

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