02 January 2011

New Year Celebrations: History And Trivia

Check out how celebrating the New Year was once considered controversial throughout history.

From Denny: Ever wonder about the history of the New Year celebration around the world? Ever wonder how we came to celebrate it on 1 January?

Ancient cultures celebrated at different times of the year

Scholars believe the earliest  idea of a New Year celebration goes back at least about 4,000 years to Mesopotamia in about 2000 B.C. They celebrated their New Year around the time of mid-March when the vernal equinox occurred. The vernal equinox is when the sun crosses directly over the Earth's equator. When it happens in the Northern Hemisphere, like in America, it's called the vernal equinox. (When it happens in the Southern Hemisphere it's called the autumnal equinox.)

Trivia: The word "equinox" means "equal night." What happens when the sun is positioned over the Earth's equator is that day and night are about equal in length all over the world. Quite the odd phenomenon.

Why March was so popular with ancient cultures

People loved to welcome the beginning of Spring.  It meant the food supplies were soon to be replenished for one thing.  A long winter made people weary and they were eager for warmer weather and new foods.

* For Christians, Easter is celebrated at this time.  Easter is always celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs after the vernal equinox.

* Egyptians found March to be significant also.  They built the Sphinx to point directly to the sun as it rises on the vernal equinox.

*  The Persian (Iran) Zoroasterians have a 3,000 year tradition of celebrating the New Year in March.  The Persian New Year, Nowruz,  lasts for 13 days to celebrate the beginning of Spring.  They are known for conducting rituals with sacred fire.  They believe the fire represents Light, a symbol of God and Goodness.  It is also a triumph of Light over the darkness of the winter when they celebrate the beginning of Spring at the time of the vernal equinox. (To learn more be sure to check out the above links as each one takes you to a page describing today's Iran cultural celebration, describing the ancient history, detailing what they do each of the 13 days.)

Zoroasterianism is considered one of the oldest religions, influentially contributing to the later religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the concepts of good and evil, virgin birth, resurrection, heaven and hell and final judgment.

When the Greeks celebrated Spring

* Greeks celebrated on the winter solstice before the vernal equinox.

Winter solstice links:

Rare 500 Year Lunar Eclipse Gets Viewed By 1.5 Billion 

Photos and Video: Rare 500 Year Lunar Eclipse 

Choosing the month of January

Get this: the Roman month of January did not even exist until 700 B.C. when the second ruler of Rome, the legendary - even mythical -  Numa Pompilius, decided to add the months of January and February to the Roman calendar. He was keen to reorganize the calendar into days for business and holidays.  He also erected the first temple to the god Janus - for whom was named the month of January.

It was Roman consuls, the chief magistrates of ancient Rome that replaced the kings, who decided upon the 1 January date as the official New Year celebration by 153 B.C.  Many throughout the empire chose to continue observing the March date. Before this the New Year celebrations took place on 1 March. But these Roman rulers were a practical bunch and wanted the celebration moved to accommodate the beginning of the civil year when they began their one-year tenure. Sort of like when American politicians get into majority power they decide to re-draw current voting districts - gerrymander - into all kinds of crazy districts, providing ways to keep them in power. Not much has changed on the political scene over a few thousand years, has it? :)

Julius Caesar changes the calendar to improve things

Now along comes the famous Roman ruler, Julius Caesar, and in 46 B.C. he threw out the ancient Roman calendar.  Why?  It was based on the moon and grew more wildly inaccurate as time passed - like January was falling in the autumn instead of in the winter.  The lunar system was employed by the ancient Chinese, Babylonians, Greeks, and Jews.

Julius got together with his astronomer, Sosigenes, to straighten out the mess by adding days to get the calendar in sync with the astronomical events.  Julius instituted the solar calendar, now called the Julian calendar, declaring 1 January as the first day of the year, and the New Year celebration too.

Medieval church leaders change time of New Year celebration

Well, give it time and sure enough someone finds fault with the way things are done. European Christian church leaders, in about 567 A.D. decided the New Year celebrations were just too much fun and far too pagan from their way of looking at things. So, the Council of Tours abolished 1 January as the official date to celebrate the New Year.

The New Year ended up getting celebrated at various times throughout medieval Christian Europe because they just could not agree on one date: on the official date of the birth of Jesus as 25 December, 1 March, on 25 March because it was the day for celebrating the Feast of Annunciation and at Easter for when Jesus was  resurrected.

New Year restored to 1 January celebration

Can people ever make up their minds? Give it a thousand years or so and the medieval Christian church leaders changed the New Year celebration back to 1 January. It was restored when the Gregorian calendar came into effect in 1582 and dubbed 1 January as the official  time to celebrate the New Year.  The Catholic countries were quick to adopt the Gregorian calendar but not the Protestant ones.  They were slow to accept the newest version of the calendar.

The British took another two hundred years before finally adopting it.  Well, not even America accepted the Gregorian calendar until 1782.  The British, and the American colonies, continued celebrating in March on Lady Day at the vernal equinox.  If you think we were a slow bunch check out these countries and their date of calendar adoption:

* Japan - 1873
* Egypt - 1875
* Russia - 1918
* Turkey - 1926
* China - 1949

Summary: The amusing thing about studying our fellow humanity - and our history - is to discover how very funny we can be. Think about it: For centuries most cultures rocked along very happy to observe the New Year as it melted into the Spring season, lining up with the astronomical event of the vernal equinox.

Along come politicians "to make life better" - for us or for them? - and we get a new calendar and a new day upon which to celebrate the New Year. We move from what makes sense to the ridiculous and artificial.

Then humanity, along with religious leaders, decides to improve upon the calendars in order to substantiate and give gravitas to their choice of date. They do this at least three times and then wonder why so few people want to cooperate with them over the centuries. People just don't like change.

Enjoy celebrating the New Year in the manner that has the most meaning for you. May the New Year find you happy, healthy and prosperous!

*** Check out these posts too:

Best New Years Cartoons 2010

New Years: Funny Quotes, Resolutions Tips, Poems

Poll: Most Admired People For 2010 - Check out the most admired people in America for 2010.

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