New Year’s History

New Year's Day is one of the most celebrated holidays in the world, but before you don your party hat and blower, find out a little more about the origins of the first day of the year.

Earliest Celebrations

  • Some 4000 years ago ancient Babylonians heralded the arrival of each new year, but back in 2000 B.C. these celebrations were held around the vernal equinox in mid-March.
  • Other early civilizations had their own traditions that usually tied in with a date of agricultural or astronomical significance.
    • The ancient Egyptians began their new year with the annual flooding of the Nile.
    • The Chinese New Year was, and still is, based on the second new moon following the winter solstice.
  • The early Romans designated March 1 as the start of the new year and adopted a calendar with 10 months.
    • This early calendar explains the discord of month names and their positions in the modern calendar (septem is Latin for "seven"; octo, "eight"; novem, "nine"; and decem, "ten").
    • The months of January and February were later added to the end of this calendar, but eventually came to be viewed as the first two months of each year.

January 1 Becomes New Year's Day

  • The Roman calendar did not sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. Roman emperor Julius Caesar decided to consult with astronomers and mathematicians to correct this problem. This lead to the creation of the Julian calendar, which closely resembles the Gregorian calendar we use today.
    • As part of his reform, Caesar proclaimed January 1 the first day of the year.
    • The new date was fitting, given that January is named for the Roman god Janus, god of gateways and new beginnings.
  • In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII established the Gregorian calendar that is widely used today to remedy the drift present in the Julian calendar and better account for leap years, opens a new window.
    • The British Empire and the American colonies did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752. Until that year, they celebrated new year's day on March 25, or Lady Day, a religious holiday.


In addition to watching fireworks and singing "Auld Lang Syne" on New Year's Eve, there are many traditions to celebrate the dawn of a new year, including:

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Do you have a special New Year's tradition? Let us know in the comments!

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