How January 1 became the day of New Year

Vimal Kumar
6 Min Read

The new year is celebrated at different dates and times in various countries. The Chinese New Year which is also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival is China’s most important and popular festival. It is decided based on the lunar calendar and the holiday falls second new moon after the winter solstice. In India, Gudhi Padwa / ChetiChand, Baishakhi is celebrated on the first day of the Hindu Lunar month of Chaitra and is celebrated as New Year’s Day by Marathis, Konkanis, and Sindhis and people of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other states. In some form, Holi, Bihu, and many other festivals across India are portrayed as the new year. The multiplicity of the celebration of the new year in India is ingrained in its nature of existential traits: Multiculturalism, multiethnicity, and multiple belief systems. However, New year which falls on 1 January as per the Gregorian calendar is celebrated uniformly across the India and World.

Julian Calendar

The earliest recording of a new year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, 2000 B.C., and was celebrated around the time of the equinox, in mid-March.  Later, the early Roman calendar designated March 1 as the new year. The calendar had just ten months, beginning with March which still reflected in the name of the month—- Septem is Latin for “seven,” octo is “eight,” novem is “nine,” and decem is “ten. January and February were added to the calendar around 700 BC by the second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius.

Consideration of January 1 to be the beginning of the new year began back in 45 B.C.  Julius Caesar in consultation with eminent mathematician and astronomer of that time Sosigenus introduced a new solar-based calendar-changing it from the lunar-based calendar. So, the year was calculated at 365 and ¼ days.

Later the emperor decreed that the new year would occur on January 1. To maintain the said date as the new year in 45 B.C, the emperor added 67 days to the year 46 B.C. As a result, in the Roman world, January 1 was consistently observed as the beginning of the new year.

The date was not uniformly accepted and was also not without any controversy. In medieval Europe, a celebration of the new year was considered pagan and unchristian. Consequently, January 1 was abolished as the beginning of the new year. At that point in time, the new year was celebrated on 25 December, the birth of Jesus; March 1 or March 25, associated with other Christian festivals.

There was also an error made by Caesar and Sosigenus in calculating the number of days in a solar year. The actual number of days in a solar calendar is 365.24199 as opposed to the 365.25 that Caesar and his team had estimated. Consequently, there was a gap of 11-minutes every year, which added up to about 11 days by the year 1582. This defect was of concern to the pope because Easter, traditionally saw on March 21, fell further away from the spring equinox with each passing year.

Gregorian Calendar

In order to resolve the ongoing issue of the Julian calendar, Aloysius Lilius, the Italian scientist devised a new system:  Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100, but these centurial years are leap years if they are exactly divisible by 400. For example, the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 are not leap-years, but the years 1600 and 2000 are. These revisions were formally instituted by the papal bull of February 24, 1582.  

Consequently, Catholic countries like Italy, Spain, and Portugal have instantly adopted the new system. It was also perceived as catholic and lead to furious debate and protests from protestant countries like England and Germany who did not recognize the calendar till the 18th century. There is some account which suggests that the riot took place in the street of England when the country adopted the Gregorian calendar.

As time progressed, numerous countries around the globe adopted the calendar. Japan began using the Gregorian calendar in 1873, Korea in 1896, and China in 1912, and they use it as the standard for official, civil, and international matters.

Numerous countries in the Indian subcontinent India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, where the traditional calendar is used alongside the Gregorian one. In India, the Saka calendar is used along with the Gregorian calendar for most official purposes.

Countries that have not adopted the Gregorian calendar are Ethiopia (Ethiopian calendar), Nepal (Vikram Samvat), Iran, and Afghanistan (Solar Hijri calendar).

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