WTF Fun Fact 13138 – The First New Year’s Celebration

Much of the world uses the Gregorian calendar, but the main calendar alteration that paved is one made by Julius Caesar. In some sense, the first new year’s celebration can be dated back to his reign – 45 BCE, to be exact.

Altering the calendar

In the 7th century BCE, the Romans introduced a calendar that followed the lunar cycle. Of course, people didn’t have these things hanging on their walls. The calendar was mostly helpful in planning crops and collecting taxes.

While the lunar calendar eventually fell out of sync with the actual seasons and needed some tweaks, there was a bigger problem. Politicians would add days to the calendar at will, mainly to extend their reigns or mess around with political terms.

When Julius Caesar became dictator of Rome, he decided to change things. His calendar was solar-based.

According to History.com (cited below), “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 46 B.C., making 45 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.”

January 1 was also a way to honor the Roman god Janus, the double-faced god (looking backward and forward).

What was the first New Year’s celebration?

So, the first January 1 that marked the new year wasn’t exactly a celebration so much as a bureaucratic decision. However, people would still offer sacrifices to the gods.

There were no ball drops and bubbly and no New Year’s resolutions. Still, 46 BCE is the first year New Year’s day started on January 1.

Months were renamed when Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE, but the calendar was still largely intact.

However, the “Celebration of New Year’s Day in January fell out of practice during the Middle Ages, and even those who strictly adhered 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.”

Calendars are far more complicated than most of us realize!

The second New Year’s correction

History.com continues the explanation: “The Church became aware of this problem [of the calendar not lining up to the solar year], 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 ten 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 en masse on January 1 to celebrate the precise arrival of the New Year.”

Celebrating the New Year goes back to 2000 BCE, when the Mesopotamians celebrated the vernal equinox towards the end of March. If you really want to play fast and loose with definitions of NYE celebrations, you could go back to the Babylonians in 4000 BCE and their 11-day, end-of-March festival called Akitu.

But if you’re looking to trace New Year’s Day back to January 1, you have Julius Caesar to thank for that. WTF fun facts

Source: “The Julian calendar takes effect for the first time on New Year’s Day” — History.com

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WTF Fun Fact 12977 – Why Isn’t September the 7th Month?

To us, the months of the calendar can mean lots of things. It can signal big changes (new school years, new fiscal years, birthday months, the beginning of Spring, harvest season, etc.). But historically, calendars were also instruments of power. That’s part of the explanation as to why September isn’t the 7th month of the year anymore.

What does September mean?

Our month of September comes from the ancient Roman calendar. The month named Septem literally meant “seven” – as in the 7th month of the year.

For much of their ancient history, the Romans has a 10-month calendar. However, to be fair, emperors were always inserting new numbers of days or months named after themselves in there. In fact, the infamous emperor Commodus tried to rename all the months after himself (a measure that was repealed after his assassination).

What did calendars really mean?

People weren’t hanging their calendars on the walls back in the ancient world. They mostly went by the night sky and used the position of the sun and the seasons to figure out what needed to be done in the fields (nearly all society was agrarian at the time).

Those in power – whether it was political or religious power (or both) – used calendars to try to make the world operate according to their whim. And while you can’t change the pace of the seasons or the lunar cycles just by sticking in a random month, you can change things like the time when taxes are due, which can really mess things up for the people around you. Politicians would even try to lose or gain a month to shorten someone’s tenure in power!

So, why isn’t September the 7th month anymore?

Recalling the entire history of the calendar would take a while. Let’s just say there have been plenty of disagreements over the centuries about how many months were needed, how many days would be in each month, when new days should be inserted to keep up with the astrological “calendar,” and what the months would be called.

But the end of September’s literal meaning started in 451 BCE when January and February were added by the Roman ruler Numa Pompilius to create a 12-month year. He added them at the end of the old calendar (which began in March), then switched things around again, but the 12-month idea clearly made more sense because it lined up with the lunar cycles.

The calendar went through many more changes, including the inclusion of the 27/28-day month called Mercedonius at one point. In 46 BC Julius Caesar had enough and reformed the calendar. That didn’t mean there weren’t tweaks here and there after that, but there’s a reason we refer to our current calendar as the Julian calendar.

It’s just that no one really cared that poor September had lost its meaning along the way.  WTF fun facts

Source: “September (Roman month)” — Wikipedia; “Roman republican calendar” — Britannica

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WTF Fun Fact 12963 – The Autumn Equinox

Solstice, equinox – what’s the difference? We know these things meant more to people in agricultural societies, but they still dictate the way we do things today to some extent. The 2022 autumn equinox will begin on September 22 at 9:03 pm.

Why is the autumn equinox so specific?

This is a natural phenomenon that influences culture, not the other way around. So while you might start shopping for your autumn decor in August, fall doesn’t really begin until the solar system says so.

The autumnal equinox occurs when the sun is nearest to the equatorial plane (the imaginary extension of the equator), giving us a day with equal amounts of sunlight and darkness. It lasts a few days, and as soon as it’s over, the days start to get shorter.

Spring also has an equinox. When it’s over, the days start to get longer.

Winter and summer, on the other hand, have solstices.

What’s the difference between an equinox and a solstice?

The summer and winter solstices occur when the sun is farthest from the equatorial plane. They are the day when the daylight is longest (spring) or shortest (winter).

So while the solstices and equinoxes each usher in a new season, each only applies to two seasons and represents a different phenomenon. (And all of the seasons are the opposite in each hemisphere – we’re only talking about the northern hemisphere here!)

What’s so fun about the autumnal solstice?

If you like fall weather (and live in the northern hemisphere), you’re probably pretty excited about its official start.

Historically, the equinox signaled the end of the outdoor working season or harvest season. It was a time to celebrate all of the hard work nature had done for humans and that humans did to reap the benefits and survive through winter. It’s traditionally a time to give thanks and take stock of all of nature’s bounty a community had received.

In many places, it was a time of harvest festivals, feasting (at least on the things that might not be preserved over the winter), and thanking the gods of the harvest.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Spiritual Meaning of the Autumn Equinox” — Spirituality & Health

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WTF Fun Fact 12693 – Fun Calendar Facts

This year (2022), May began on a Sunday and June will begin on a Wednesday. That means no other months this year will begin on those days. In addition, May 31st is a Tuesday, meaning no other month will end on a Tuesday.

Sure, it’s a bit of a useless piece of trivia, but it’s a fun numbers game for those who like those sorts of puzzles.

Some international and national U.S. highlights to plan for this June include:
June 2: National Rocky Road Day and National Rotisserie Chicken Day
June 4: National Cheese Day
June 7: Chocolate Ice Cream Day
June 10: National Iced Tea Day
June 12: National Peanut Butter Cookie Day
June 15: Global Wind Day
June 18: International Sushi Day
June 21: Go Skateboarding Day
June 26: World Refrigeration Day

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Some facts about the month of June” — WYTV News

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