Today, the human race celebrates a plethora of festivals, based on religion, culture and social standing; however, if historians are to be believed the father of all these occasions, the oldest celebrated event is the beginning of a New Year. It is believed that the earliest of New Year celebrations can be traced back to Mesopotamia, around 2000 BC. They celebrated New Year in the month of spring with the rise of the first new moon. It usually fell in the month of March as far as the contemporary Gregorian calendar is concerned. It is believed that the tradition of making New Year resolution also dates make to 2000 BC and Babylonians were the first to start this practice.
If one takes even a cursory look at the world history, one cannot help but see that with time, various ancient civilizations systematically developed their scientific know-how and created more sophisticated date and day calculation systems. Usually, the first day of the year was designated based on some or the other astronomical or seasonal phenomenon. In the case of ancient Egyptian civilization, as per their lunar calendar, the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile, which also corresponded with the rising of the star, Sirius, which was considered highly auspicious by them. Greeks indulged in New Year revelry with the occurrence of the winter solstice, whereas the Chinese celebrated the day on the rising of the second new moon after the winter solstice.
How January 1 became New Year's Day?
Numerous present New Year practices, including the date of celebration, followed by most of the world i.e. January 1st, has been a gift of the mighty Roman civilization. The old Roman calendar was made up of 10 months and 304 days and the New Year commenced with the vernal equinox. The founder of Rome, Romulus was credited with the creation of this system. Later, the months of Januarius and Februarius were added to the Roman calendar by King Numa Pompilius. However, with the passage of time, this date and day calculation system became outdated and useless as it fell completely out of sync with the movement of sun.
To solve this problem, the great Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar met with most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of his time in 46 BC and introduced the Julian calendar. This calendar was much modern and accurate than the old one and bore a close resemblance with the modern Gregorian calendar that is under use at present in most of the countries around the world. Initiating further reforms, Caesar declared January 1 as the first day of the year; he did so in honor of the Roman God, Janus, who was believed to be the deity of new beginnings. He was depicted as having two faces - one facing forwards, looking at the future and the other looking backwards, peering in the past. Romans celebrated this day much like us, by cleaning as well as decorating their homes, exchanging gifts and throwing wild New Year parties.
Why January 1 got abolished and then reinstated as New Year's Day?
With the dawn of the Dark Ages in medieval Europe, the Church declared the practice of celebrating New Year on January 1st as non-Christian and a mockery of religion; thus, banned it. This celebration was temporarily shifted to other days that according to the Church carried more religious significance, which included December 25 (the anniversary of Jesus' birth) and March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation). However, this was soon discontinued and January 1 was officially reestablished as the beginning of a new year, with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar around 1580s. This calendar is named so as it was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII. From then till today, most of the world celebrates New Year on this day.
Why is New Year celebrated on different dates around the world?
As mentioned previously, the entire world, even today, does not celebrate New Year on January 1st. The reason behind it is that not all countries and people around the world follow one calendar; in fact, many still follow their ancient cultural calendars. Take for example, the Chinese, where the New Year is known as Yuan Tan and is celebrated according to their lunar calendar between January 17 and February 19, at the time of the new moon.
New Year has a very interesting and fascinating history attached to it, which begins with early civilizations and continues till today.