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Sunday, December 30, 2007

The history of New Years

Being that it is almost New Years, I was thinking a little New Years history lesson might be in order.

The Babylonians
The origins of New Years dates back about 4000 years with the Babylonians, making New Years the world's oldest celebrated holiday. In 2000 BC, the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon after the Vernal Equinox (first day of spring) and lasted for 11 days, each day having it's own style of celebration.

The Romans
The early Romans also celebrated their New Years in March. However at that time, their calendar had only ten months, beginning with March, and with the constant date tampering by corrupt emperors, their calendar soon become out of sync with the sun. In order to set the calendar right, in 153 BC the Roman senate added January and February to the calendar, and declared January 1st to be the beginning of the New Year. But this new calendar was not always observed, and New Years was still sometimes celebrated in March. So in 46 BC, Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar that was a great improvement to the ancient lunar based Roman calendar, which had become wildly inaccurate over the years. The Julian calendar stated that the new year would be on January 1, and so January 1 became the observed start of the new year. However, in order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Julius Caesar had to let the prior year drag on for a total of 445 days.

Religious Condemnation
In the first centuries AD, the Romans continued celebrating the New Year, but the early Catholic Church condemned the festivities as paganism. As Christianity became more widespread, the early church began having its own religious observances concurrently with many of the pagan celebrations, and New Year's Day was no different. New Years is still observed as the Feast of Christ's Circumcision by some denominations.

Gregorian Calendar
Although the Julian calendar was a great achievement, it was still not perfect. This new calendar created a year with approximately 365 1/4 days, which gives an error of 1 day every 128 years. As a result, by 16th century, the calendar had drifted a 10 days off course. So in 1582 Pope Gregory VIII, after working with astronomers, made the final changes necessary to reform the Julian calendar to the 365-day Gregorian calendar, which is what we use today.

Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, the Church remained opposed to celebrating New Years. January 1 has been celebrated as a holiday by Western nations for only about the past 400 years.

New Year’s Resolutions
The first New Year's resolution also dates back 4000 years to the Babylonians. A common New Year’s resolution for the Babylonians was to return something borrowed from a friend over the course of the past year, for example farm equipment, wife, whatever. (Just kidding about the wife part, just making sure your all still awake).

As far as the Romans go, they had their own New Year’s resolution tradition, which was to seek forgiveness from enemies of previous years.

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