Ever wondered why January starts the new year? It’s safe to say that if you are reading this, the celebrations are all done and dusted for another year, fireworks have been let off, parties enjoyed, and those who indulged just a bit too much are recovering.
This time around, New Year’s Eve is Sunday, December 31, 2023, and New Year’s Day is Monday, January 1, 2024. Both the 1st and 2nd are public holidays in New Zealand, but why do we and other countries around the world celebrate it on January 1.
The earliest known record of a New Year festival dates from about 2000BC in Mesopotamia, where in Babylonia the new year (Akitu) began with the new moon after the spring equinox (mid-March) and in Assyria with the new moon nearest the autumn equinox (mid-September). For the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians the year began with the autumn equinox (September 21), and for the early Greeks it began with the winter solstice (December 21). On the Roman republican calendar, the year began on March 1, but in 45 B.C., New Year’s Day was celebrated on January 1 for the first time in history.
This marked the start of the Julian calendar, thanks to Roman Emperor Julius Caesar’s reforms. Today’s Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII to correct some slight inaccuracies but continues to start the year in January.
The month of “January” is named for Janus, the ancient Roman god. Often depicted as having two faces—one looking forward and one looking back—Janus was the god of beginnings and endings, doors and gates, passageways and transitions.
In ancient Roman times, the gates of the temple of Janus were open in times of war and closed in times of peace. While Janus is linked to war, it was more as a way to protect and welcome returning warriors; at other times, he symbolizes peace.
In modern times, not all cultures follow the Gregorian calendar. The date of the New Year in the Hindu, Chinese, Coptic, Jewish, and Islamic calendars differs.
The Chinese New Year starts in January or early February. The Jewish New Year (based on a lunar calendar) is called Rosh Hashanah and usually takes place in September.
The Islamic New Year, also known as the First of Muharram, is usually observed in July or August and is based on the sighting of the thin crescent Moon.
Regardless of where your beliefs place you in the timing of the New Year, make it a good one, full of good intentions, meaningful decisions for the betterment of yourself and your family, and true purpose to challenge yourself to be a better version of yourself.