New Year, a Brief History

By Randall Orser | Small Business

New Year is the time at which a new calendar year begins and the calendar’s year count increments by one. Many cultures celebrate the event in some manner. The New Year of the Gregorian calendar, today mostly in use, falls on 1 January (New Year’s Day), as was the case both in the old Roman calendar (at least after about 713 BCE) and in the Julian calendar that succeeded it. The order of months was January to December in the Old Roman calendar during the reign of King Numa Pompilius in about 700 BCE, per Plutarch and Macrobius, and has been in continuous use since that time. Many countries, such as the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, the UK, Canada, and the United States, mark 1 January as a national holiday.
During the Middle Ages in western Europe, while the Julian calendar was still in use, authorities moved New Year’s Day variously, depending upon locale, to one of several other days, among them: 1 March, 25 March, Easter, 1 September, and 25 December. These New Year’s Day changes generally reverted to using January 1 before or during the various local adoptions of the Gregorian calendar, beginning in 1582. The change from March 25 – Lady Day, one of the four quarter days – to January 1 took place in Scotland in 1600, before the ascension of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1603 and well before the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. In England and Wales (and in all British dominions, including Britain’s American colonies), 1751 began on March 25 and lasted 282 days, and 1752 began on January 1. For more information about the changeover from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar and the effect on the dating of historical events etc., see Old Style and New Style dates.
A great many other calendars have seen use historically in different parts of the world; some such calendars count years numerically, while others do not. The expansion of Western culture during recent centuries has seen such widespread official adoption of the Gregorian calendar that its recognition and that of January 1 as the New Year has become virtually global. (Note for example the New Year celebrations held in Dubai to mark the start of 2014, which broke the world record for the most fireworks set off in a single display, lasting for six minutes and including the use of over 500,000 fireworks.)
Nevertheless, regional or local use of other calendars persists, along with the cultural and religious practices that accompany them. Many places (such as Israel, China, and India) also celebrate New Year at the times determined by these other calendars. In Latin America, the observation of traditions belonging to various native cultures continues per their own calendars, despite the domination of recently arrived cultures. The most common dates of modern New Year’s celebrations are listed below, ordered and grouped by their alignment relative to the Gregorian calendar.
Because of the division of the globe into time zones, the new year moves progressively around the globe as the start of the day ushers in the New Year. The 1st time zone to usher in the New Year, just west of the International Date Line, is in the Line Islands, a part of the nation of Kiribati, and has a time zone 14 hours ahead of UTC. All other time zones are 1 to 25 hours behind, most in the previous day (31 December); on American Samoa and Midway, it is still 11 PM on 30 December. These are among the last inhabited places to observe New Year. However, uninhabited outlying U.S. territories Howland Island and Baker Island are designated as lying within the time zone 12 hours behind UTC, the last places on earth to see the arrival of 1 January. These small coral islands are found about midway between Hawaii and Australia, about 1,000 miles west of the Line Islands. This is because the International Date Line is a composite of local time zone arrangements, which winds through the Pacific Ocean, allowing each locale to remain most closely connected in time with the nearest or largest or most convenient political and economic locales with which each associate. By the time Howland island sees the new year, it is 2 AM on 2 January in the Line Islands of Kiribati.

About the Author

Bookkeeper Extraordinaire
Number Crunchers® Financial Services

Learn how to just say stuff it to this bookkeeping thing with our ‘Just Say: “Stuff It” To Bookkeeping program.