The Summer solstice has passed. Now the days grow shorter. This got me to thinking of the importance of the longest day of the year and the shortest day of the year, which is December 21.
So why does the New Year begin almost two weeks later? It just didn’t make any sense to me. I decided to dig a little and the story gets stranger and stranger.
Until the last two hundred years, almost everyone worked on a farm. If the most technologically advance European countries had more farm workers than anything else. What’s the most important single issue for any farmer? When he should plant his crops. Plant too soon and a killing frost will destroy your work. Plant too late, and your crops won’t mature before the first frost of fall.
Early astronomy tracked the movements of the sun and moon, and hence the time of the year. The summer and winter solstice were critical since the lunar cycle doesn’t match the annual solar cycle.
The first thing I discovered was the New Year doesn’t begin on January first for everyone. The Chinese New year occurs on the New Moon of the first lunar month. That is somewhere between January 21 and February 21.
The Islamic Calendar is a lunar calendar of twelve months, made of 354/355 days. Right. It’s about ten days short of a solar year, so the new year keeps moving from year to year.
So that made me think I should investigate the beginning of the year and Christianity. When does the Catholic Liturgical year begin? It begins with the beginning of Advent, which begins four Sundays before December 25, Christmas Day. Sort of makes sense, but doesn’t help me in my quest.
Is the origin of January First rooted in ancient times? The Babylonians created the Zodiac about three thousand years ago. They were great astronomers and they gave us the Astrology we use today. I checked. Their new year was around the spring Equinox.
Now I remembered that the Romans used something similar, which is why December got the name of the tenth month, even though it was the twelve month. Is there nothing logical about our calendar?
However, that led me to another article. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar. The revised calendar was designed to stay in sync with the solar year without human intervention. Plutarch and Pliny wrote about it. The reform began by changing the length of the Roman months by adding days to them.
Now the month of January was named for the god name Janus, the god of doors and gates. Perhaps that is why Julius made the first day of that month the beginning of the year.
Whatever the reason, Julius Caesar gave us January 1 as the beginning of the year.
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