Friday, December 31, 2010

Ancient New Year's Celebrations

by Jean Henry Mead

The New Year's celebration is the oldest of holidays and was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4,000 years ago. By 2000 BC, Babylonians celebrated the New year on what is now March 23, although they had no written calendar. Late March actually is a logical choice for the New Year because spring is when new crops are planted while the first of January has no astronomical or agricultural significance.

The Babylonian New Year celebration lasted for eleven days. Each day had its own special festivities. The Romans continued to observe the New Year on March 25, but their calendar was continuously tampered with by various emperors and soon became out of sync with the sun. In order to set the calendar straight, the Roman senate in 153 BC declared January 1 as the beginning of the New Year. But tampering continued until Julius Caesar in 46 BC established what became known as the Julian Calendar. In order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year continue for 445 days.

During the Middle Ages, Christians changed New Year's Day to December 25, the birth of Christ. They then changed his birthday to March 25, a holiday called the Annunciation. Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar during the sixteen century and the celebration of the New Year was returned to January 1.

Some cultures use a lunar calendar with less than 365 days because the months are based on the phases of the moon. The Chinese are among those who observe a lunar calendar. Their New Year begins with the first full moon after the sun enters Aquarius, between January 19 and February 21.

According the Wikipedia: "The Revised Julian calendar adds a day to February in years divisible by four, except for years divisible by 100 that do not leave a remainder of 200 or 600 when divided by 900. This rule agrees with the rule for the Gregorian calendar until 2799. The first year that dates in Revised Julian calendar will not agree with those in the Gregorian calendar will be 2800, because it will be a leap year in the Gregorian calendar but not in the Revised Julian calendar.

"This rule gives an average year 365.242222… days, a good approximation to the mean tropical year. But because the vernal equinox year is slightly longer, the Revised Julian calendar does not do as good a job as the Gregorian calendar of keeping the vernal equinox on or close to March 21."

Confused? So am I.

Happy New Year!


Earl Staggs said...

Very interesting, Jean, but I'm thoroughly confused. So much so, I've decided to celebrate New Years in March. Maybe it'll be warmer then.

Jean Henry Mead said...

lol, Earl. I think June would be even better. It's 3 degrees below zero here with a -33 wind chill factor. I'm not going anywhere to celebrate.

Morgan Mandel said...

Thanks for the info, Jean.
Well, it seems for now the calendar isn't changing any more. Okay with me. It gets too confusing.

Morgan Mandel