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