If there is one day of the year which the world, at least most of it, seems to agree as being an important marker – it is 1 January. This is the day that represents the start of a new year. The date is so obviously logical to us – but that has not always been the case.
According to legend, our modern celebration of New Year’s Day stems from an ancient Roman pagan custom which some suggested started in 153 BC. This was the feast of Janus, the Roman god of doorways and beginnings. The name for the month of January also comes from Janus, who was depicted as having two faces – one looking back into the past, and the other peering forward to the future.
The Gregorian calendar
The calendar most in common use today is the Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII who decreed in 1582 arevision of the Julian calendar which had been in use since 45 BC after Julius Caesar reformed the then Roman calendar. The Julian calendar was intended to approximate the solar year. It divided the year into 365 days with an extra day in a leap year every four years; thus each year is approximately 365.25 days. The reality, however, is that the solar year is 11 minutes a year shorter than 365.25 days, and the calendar gains about three days every four centuries. The Gregorian calendar sought to rectify this by omitting three leap years every 400 years.
Adoption of the 1 January as the start of the New Year and of the Gregorian calendar happened gradually over many centuries. France, for example, adopted 1January as the New Year in 1564 but the Gregorian calendar in 1582, almost three decades later. Britain and its empire adopted both 1 January as the New Year and the Gregorian calendar only in 1752. Japan was the first Eastern country to adopt both 1 January as the New Year and the Gregorian calendar in 1872. It is difficult for us living today in the globalized world with so many common standards to imagine the confusion that happened when countries and peoples operated on different calendars.
Celebrating the differences too
In the same vein as Jean-Pierre Lehmann’s article on the feast of cultures and differences, it is gratifying to note that many peoples continue to celebrate their own cultural New Years, in addition to observing the near universal New Yearof 1 January. The Chinese celebrates the start of their lunar year each year some time in January-February, the Thais their Songkran on 13 April, and the Ethiopianstheir Enqutatash on 11 or 12 September –to cite just a few examples. The world can only be the richer with the celebration ofthese cultural diversities.
I wish all readers of this article, the practitioners of Sage Vita, and in fact one and all – a Joyful New year. May we findgreater peace and the ability to createprosperity that can be shared by all the peoples across the globe.