New Year celebrations get bigger and better each year with parties and festivities becoming grander and fireworks displays brighter and for longer durations.
However, celebrating the New Year is not a recent phenomenon. You’ll be rather surprised to know that around the world New Year celebrations began at least 4,000 years ago! Today, the last day of the Gregorian calendar, which is December 31 is considered New Year’s Eve and celebrations continue into the first day of the New Year, which is January 1.
The earliest recorded celebrations of the arrival of a new year go back to the ancient Babylonians and their deep involvement with religion and mythology. For them, the first New Moon after the Vernal Equinox, the day in late March when day and night are of equal duration, brought the beginning of the New Year. They marked this period with religious festivities as well as with celebrations of spring time and harvest.
In ancient days, different civilizations held the New Year in association with a particular astronomical or agricultural event. For example in Egypt, the New Year began with the rising of the star Sirius coinciding with the annual flooding of the river Nile. For the Chinese, the New Year began with the occurrence of the second new moon following the winter solstice.
There are interesting facts to note about the introduction of January 1 as New Year’s Day.
During the days of the early Romans, the annual calendar consisted of 10 months (304 days) created by Rome’s founder Romulus in the 8th century BC; new year began at the Vernal Equinox. Later, the months of Januarius and Februarius were added to the calendar and this set the trend for the next few centuries. However during this period it began to be noted that the calendar was falling out of sync with the Sun. In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar in consultation with prominent mathematicians and astrologers of his time. An extra 90 days were added to the Roman calendar to sync it with the sun making it the Julian calendar in honor of Julius Caesar. The Gregorian calendar which we follow today closely resembles the ancient Julian calendar.
The inclusion of January 1 as the first day of the New Year has another interesting theme to it. Janus, the Roman god, is two-faced, it is believed that one looks at the past while one looks into the future and there is the connection between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, or the midnight hour when the old year slips away and the new one is welcomed in.