If most of the Western world hadn’t adapted to the modern calendar, which starts the year on January 1st, you may have been.
The first known New Year’s celebrations were held in ancient Mesopotamia, which is now Iraq, around 2000 B.C. The event, known as akitu, began on the first new moon after the spring equinox, or the day when daylight and darkness are equal. It might run up to twelve days. Usually, it fell around March. The celebration represented the coronation of a new king or the reaffirmation of allegiance to the reigning king for the Babylonians of the period.
Whether they be religious, astronomical, or agricultural, different calendars sometimes associate their own new year festivities with other significant occasions. The barley harvest in Mesopotamia also fell on the same day as akitu.
The second new moon after the winter solstice, which typically occurs in late January or early February and heralds the arrival of spring, is when the Chinese calendar year officially begins, and they have been celebrating this tradition for 3,500 years and counting.
When Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, arrived in the midst of July, ancient Egyptians knew that a new year had begun. This coincided with the Nile’s cyclical flooding, which helped irrigate neighbouring farms. In order to maintain the lunar cycle, the ancient Egyptians celebrated the new year for five days before counting the start of the first month because their calendar comprised twelve 30-day months.
There was no official calendar in place in pre-Islamic Arabia, but in 638 A.D., Umar I, the second Islamic caliph, created the lunar Islamic calendar in an effort to clear up any confusion on which calendars recognised significant religious holidays.
According to that, the first crescent moon appears on 1 Muharram, the first day of the first sacred month, marking the start of a new year. The Julian calendar’s July 16, 622, was chosen as the starting point for counting in remembrance of the day Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina to establish the first Islamic kingdom. According to the Islamic calendar, which is also called the Hijri calendar and has just 354 or 355 days a year, July 7 or 8, 2024, will mark the beginning of year 1446.
It was a quite different tale in ancient Rome. The first king, Romulus, instituted the oldest known calendars there, which started in Martius (later changed to March), marking the beginning of new consuls, the highest elected position. However, it was only in operation for 304 days, or 10 months, with no set winter break in between. Numa Popilius, the second king of ancient Rome, added 50 days to the calendar year in the 7th century B.C. to account for the winter season. He also divided the year unevenly into 12 months, naming them Ianuarius (in honour of Janus, the god of beginnings) and Februarius (in reference to the purification festival called Februa during that month). The inauguration of new consuls was shifted to Ianuarius by 153 B.C., though this was not set in stone.
This may sound like a familiar calendar already, but there was still an important difference from the calendar that most of the world uses today: the Roman calendar year was purportedly based on the moon phase cycle, which lasted 29.5 days. However, due to occasionally calendar failures, an extra month called Meredithus had to be added in order to bring the system back into position.
Following his rise to power in 46 B.C., Julius Caesar turned to the astronomers and mathematicians Sosigenes for guidance on creating a new solar-based calendar. When the new Julian calendar was developed by 45 B.C., January 1 became the official start of the civil year in Rome. The Julian calendar also included an extra day every four years, or what we now refer to as leap years, such as 2024, but it was 11 minutes longer than a solar year.
When the Roman Empire grew, the Julian calendar was adopted in many regions of Europe, but its new year’s day wasn’t observed everywhere. Christmas Day, December 25, was the start of the new year for most of ancient Christian Europe; yet, in some other nations, it fell on March 25 as part of the Feast of the Annunciation.
However, the 11-minute difference in the Julian calendar would compound over years, so that by the middle of the 15th century, it was an extra 10 days out of sync with the solar cycle. After the Catholic Church observed this discrepancy, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a new calendar in the 1570s that would resolve the issue by preventing any centurial year (1700, for example) from receiving an additional leap day unless the year is divisible by 400 (2000, for example). The official start of each new year was established on January 1st by the Gregorian calendar.
Due to its accuracy, the Gregorian calendar was adopted by most of the world. However, because Great Britain and its American colonies denied the Pope’s authority, they did not quickly accept it. Brits double-dated documents and utilised both calendars for almost 200 years. However, by 1752, the two calendars were 11 days apart, and the London Parliament finally decided to give up on the Julian calendar.
The Gregorian calendar is currently extensively used as the international standard civil calendar for corporations and governments, even in many nations where the Islamic or lunar calendars are more common in culture.
Due to a lengthy history that dates back to Julius Caesar, Pope Gregory XIII, and the first civilization in Mesopotamia, the majority of the world’s 8.1 billion people will be wishing their neighbours a happy New Year when the ball descends in Times Square on Sunday night!
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