Why Does the New Year Begin on January 1?

by Kati Michelle
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Some parts of the world have already rung in the New Year and the rest of us are pretty dang close behind. And, sure, there may be a looming asteroid nearby, but you don’t have to let that celestial object rain on your parade. One beer company has put together a Polar Plunge event in Oregon while Dierks Bentley celebrates opening a new Whiskey Row location in Denver today. But why do we celebrate the first of January as the start of the year anyway?

That’s a question for our history buffs, which a lot of Outsiders are. In case you didn’t already know the answer, let’s dive into the topic so you can nail it the next time it pops up on “Jeopardy!”

A Brief History of the Holiday

According to the Britannica Encyclopedia, celebrating the first of January as the start of the year is a pretty new concept, historically speaking. In fact, several other dates have had the same significance for centuries like March 25th and December 25th.

We’ve got to hop in our time machine and go back to the days of Roman King Numa Pompilius to observe one of the first major changes to our calendars. Pompilius was the one who replaced March with January as the first month on the Roman republican calendar. The updated month was named for the Roman God of all blessings, Janus, as opposed to the Roman God of war, Mars. But it still took some time before we began to celebrate New Year’s Day.

Julius Caesar kept January at the front of the Julian calendar, but as you know, the empire eventually fell. So, several Christians reverted back to March 25th (the Feast of the Annunciation) and December 25th (Christmas) for their celebrations.

The discovery of the leap year phenomenon caused quite the stir sometime later, leading to Pope Gregory XIII establishing the Gregorian character we’re all familiar with. Still, it took Great Britain and the American colonies until 1752 to officially hop on board.

Though the Gregorian calendar is widespread today, it still doesn’t encompass every country. China, for example, continues to celebrate its New Year based on the lunar calendar. And then there’s Ethiopia which celebrates its Enkutatash in September.

Which Countries Are Ringing in the New Year First

Tonga was the first place on the planet that celebrated the New Year with New Zealand and Australia close behind. The Real Word then ordered Japan, the Philippines, Cambodia, and Thailand next. Places like Russia, Spain, and the UK will also ring in the holiday before many of us.

Another interesting piece of trivia surrounds who celebrates the holiday last. Apparently, it’s Baker Island and Howland. They are both uninhabited places situated just barely north of the Equator.

Outsider.com