The History Behind Your Happy New Year
The first day of the year has historically been celebrated, even before our current ideas of New Years and the Gregorian calendar.
As we end the year with parties, food and festive activities, we also look forward to the year to come. This has long been a tradition for almost all cultures around the world. Some New Year’s Eve celebrations will fall on December 31st, while others occur at various times throughout the year. For example, Chinese New Year happens on February 8 in 2016 (the Year of the Monkey).
The time of year a culture celebrates the New Year depends on the calendar they used when the tradition was formed. Before the use of our current calendar – the Gregorian calendar – most civilizations worked with the Roman calendar.
Both Roman and Chinese calendars were based on Lunar cycles. In 45 BCE Julius Caesar decided that the calendar needed a drastic reform because of the constant adjusting that was required to keep the calendar in time with the season. Think daylight savings problems to the max.
Caesar decided to enlist the help of Sosigenes, an astrologer from Alexandria, to help him model his new calendar on the Egyptian solar-based calendar that had been in use since 4,000 BCE. The 12 month system provided regularity and very little adjustment. They did however add an additional day for five months for accuracy, which differed from the Egyptian 12 months each with 30 days.
In celebration of his new calendar, Caesar renamed two of the months: July is named after himself, being his month of birth, and August after Augustus, the successor to the throne. This became known as the Julian calendar and was in use for over 1,000 years, that is until the Roman church discovered a slight flaw in Caesar’s and Sosigenes’ calculations.
By early Roman calculations it took the Earth 365.25 days to travel around the sun, but in actuality the precise time taken is 365.242199 days. While this small difference doesn’t seem much, it amounted to eleven minutes every year and accumulated to ten days after 1,000 years had passed.
To correct the problem, around the middle of the 15th century Pope Gregory XIII commissioned Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius to once again transform our calendar. Clavius decided that the error could be solved if every four years an additional day was added to the end of February, thus Leap Year came into being.
In celebration of what became the Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII, people took to the streets en masse on January 1st to welcome in the New Year. Six centuries later we are still using the same calendar and have found very little fault in it since.
So as you celebrate the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, send a little thanks to the many astrologers that worked for this January 1st 2016, and impress your friends with your knowledge of ancient calendar creation. Everyone here at Midphase wishes you a safe and happy January 1st!