LLR Books

New Year’s history

In his interesting article, “A History of the New Year” at infoplease.com, Borgna Brunner wrote that the celebration of the new year on Jan. 1st is a relatively new phenomenon and that the earliest record of a new year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, around 2000 B.C. and was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox, in mid-March. However, in other places, a variety of other dates tied to the seasons were also used by various ancient cultures. The Egyptians, Phoenicians and Persians began their new year with the fall equinox, and the Greeks celebrated it on the winter solstice. Let’s have more of vernal equinox and solstice later.
In the early Roman calendar, the first day of March was designated as New Year’s Day. The early Roman calendar had just 10 months, beginning with March. The months of September through December, the ninth through twelfth months in our present calendar, were originally positioned as the seventh through tenth months. In Latin, septem is “seven,” octo is “eight,” novem is “nine,” and decem is “ten.” The months of January and February did not exist in the early Roman Calendar.
It was in Rome in 153 B.C. that the new year was first celebrated on Jan. 1st. This came about when the when the second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius, added the months of January and February to the Roman calendar. With this addition, the New Year was also moved from March 1st to January 1st because that was also the beginning of the civil year, the month that the two newly-elected Roman consuls—the highest officials in the Roman republic—began their one-year tenure. But this date was not always strictly and widely observed, and the new year was still sometimes celebrated on March 1.
In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar that was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman calendar, which was a lunar system that had become wildly inaccurate over the years. The Julian calendar decreed that the New Year would occur with Jan. 1, and within the Roman empire, Jan. 1 became the consistently observed start of the New Year.
In 567 A.D., however, the Council of Tours abolished Jan. 1 as the beginning of the year because in medieval Europe, the celebrations accompanying the New Year were considered pagan. As a result of this, at various times and places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on Dec. 25, the birth of Jesus; March 1, the old New Year date; March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation; and Easter.
In 1582, the Gregorian calendar reform came which restored Jan. 1 as New Year’s Day. Most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately but it was only gradually adopted among Protestant countries. The British Empire and their American colonies, for example, did not adopt the reformed calendar until 1752.
What is this thing called vernal equinox?
In physical geography, vernal equinox is the time at which the sun crosses the plane of the equator towards the relevant hemisphere, making day and night of equal length. It usually occurs on March 21 in the northern hemisphere and about Sept. 23 in the southern hemisphere.
What about the winter solstice?
A solstice is an astronomical event that occurs twice each year as the sun reaches its highest or lowest excursion relative to the celestial equator on the celestial sphere. As a result, on the day of the solstice, the sun appears to have reached its highest or lowest annual altitude in the sky above the horizon at local solar noon. The solstices, together with the equinoxes, are connected with the seasons. In many cultures the solstices mark either the beginning or the midpoint of winter and summer.
The word solstice is derived from Latin. In Latin, sol means “sun” and sistere means “to stand still.” At the solstices, therefore, the sun stands still in declination; that is, the seasonal movement of the Sun’s path (as seen from Earth) comes to a stop before reversing direction. At latitudes in the temperate zone, the summer solstice marks the day when the sun appears highest in the sky. However, in the tropics, the sun appears directly overhead (called the subsolar point) some days (or even months) before the solstice and again after the solstice, which means the subsolar point occurs twice each year. The term solstice can also be used in a broader sense, as the date (day) when this occurs. The day of the solstice is either the longest day of the year (in summer) or the shortest day of the year (in winter) for any place outside of the tropics.
Now let me say “Happy New Year” in different languages to all my friends:
In Afrikaans, “Voorspoedige nuwe jaar.” In Arabic, “Kul ‘am wa antum bikhair.” In Basque, “Urter Berri on.” In Cantonese Chinese, “Sun nien fai lok.” In Mandarin Chinese, “Xin nian yu kuai.” In Czech, “Stastny Novy Rok.” In Danish, “Godt NytÅr.” In Finnish, “Onnellista uutta vuotta.” In French, “Bonne année.” In German, “Ein glückliches neues Jahr.” In Greek, “Eutychismenos o kainourgios chromos.” In Hawaiian, “Hauoli Makahiki hou.” In Hebrew, “Shana Tova.” In Hungarian, “Boldog uj evet.” In Indonesian, “Selamat Tahun Baru.” In Italian, “Felice Anno Nuovo or Buon anno.” In Japanese, “Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu.” In Korean, “Sehe Bokmanee Bateuseyo.” In Latin, “Felix sit annus novus.” In Norwegian, “Godt Nytt År.” In Spanish, “Feliz año Nuevo.” In Swedish, “Gott Nytt År.” In Filipino (Tagalog), “Manigong Bagong Taon.” In Filipino (Cebuano), “Bulahang Bag-ong Tuig.”