Another New Year


A statue representing Janus Bifrons in the Vatican Museums via Wikipedia

“Happy New Year!”

That greeting will be said and heard again and again over the next few weeks.  But the day celebrated around the world as New Year’s Day was not always January 1.

Celebrating the dawning of a new year is the oldest of all holidays and was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago.  The Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon (actually the first visible crescent) after the Vernal Equinox (first day of spring).

The beginning of spring is a logical time to start a new year.  It is the season of rebirth, planting new crops, and blossoming of flowers.  But the choice of January 1 has no astronomical nor agricultural significance and is purely arbitrary.

The Babylonian new year celebration lasted for eleven days. We know little of the actual celebrations but from reading about the period it would probably be  safe to say that modern New Year’s Eve festivities pale in comparison.

The Romans continued to observe the new year in late March, but as their calendar was tampered with by various emperors it soon became out of synchronization with the sun.  So in order to set the calendar right, the Roman senate, in 153 BC, declared January 1 to be the beginning of the new year.

At about this same time (153 BC) we are told that the tradition of making New Year resolutions began.  This was when  Janus, a mythical king of early Rome, was placed at the head of the calendar.  Janus had two faces and so was able to look back on the past and look forward to the future.  He became the ancient symbol for resolutions and many Romans looked for forgiveness from their enemies at the start of a new year.

Many of us make New Year resolutions and so if you have made yours be aware that you are following a tradition set in place almost 2,200 years ago.



17 responses to “Another New Year

  1. I found myself to be so rubbish at keeping new year resolutions that I made one last one about 15 years ago and have kept it ever since … never to make another new years resolution. 🙂


  2. It has been presented that Jesus was born in mid summer and that the early Roman Church certified his birth to be at the end of the December month to be congruent with the Saturnalia, the tradition end of year festivities. This was to attract pagans. I think they twisted the Gospel adding some fairy tales to attract pagan believers that needed magic to be convinced too.


    • Well not wanting to step on anybody’s toes I think this Christianity thing has been twisted around to meet the facts in many ways. 🙂


      • Sadly, this is true, Judith. Oftentimes God’s Word has been distorted to suit a certain doctrine or belief. We see what today’s media does with a person’s words, it has probably been thus for many years.


  3. It would be nice to start the new year in conjunction with spring but that might bring on the conundrum of whose spring would be used. Here the New Year is in the darkest and coldest time of year. Sometimes the new year celebrations and reflections end up giving a boost out of what otherwise might be a dull and challenging time. Your post gave me new insight as to the traditions and history of this holiday….thanks Judith.


    • I do think that in the northern hemisphere the celebrations of Christmas and New Year were meant to bring some light into otherwise dark months in the middle of the winter. 🙂


  4. If the tradition of making resolutions at the New Year came from a mythical character, then I feel NO GUILT WHATSOEVER in only making mythical resolutions.

    Thanks. You’ve made keeping them that much easier!


  5. My grimly determined resolutions to Get Slim and Stay Full during the next 365 days have probably been repeated over the past 2,000 years! I can just picture a Babylonian saying, “This Year I will definitely lose weight!” Thanks again Judith for a great post and a comforting and lovely look backwards in time.


  6. Spring seems to make so much sense as the beginning of new year or cycle, doesn’t it?


  7. Totally informative post and interesting details concerning the establishment of the Ist of January as the beginning of the New Year.
    Without being dogmatic you presented your reference to the whole matter by going very back into time.
    However,I very much enjoyed your reference to Janus mythical king as January is named after his name.
    The two faces aspect is also so symbolic … We all have the ability to look back on the past but to look forward to the future ? It depends how we define it.To look forward to predict things or to anticipate optimistically and see what the future holds … ?
    The only thing I know is that we all should,at least,enjoy the present.
    I absolutely enjoyed your evocative post,Judith !!!
    Have a nice day


    • Thank you so much. I love delving around to find out how certain traditions started – and now we the internet it makes it so much easier (but not as exciting as thumbing through the various books on the shelf here and at the library).
      I agree – the present is a gift which is why it is called a present and looking forward to the future optimistically is a strength we should all develop. 🙂


      • Did you send me another comment? I inadvertently deleted a comment about the traditions in Greece that are very like those in Scotland. And the comment also touched on January 25 and Burns night. I am sorry that I deleted the comment. 🙂


  8. Pingback: New Year Traditions | I choose how I will spend the rest of my life

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