Why is New Year's on New Year's?

December 31, 2008 8:22:06 AM PST
Title: "Why Is New Year's on New Year's?" We are finishing up the year of 2008, in the Action News podcast pod. Hardly exciting, but you know what, that is my exact sentiment when it comes to the New Year's holiday itself. Please don't be offended when you hear this, but I just can't figure it out. People get so excited, they make such a big deal, they stay up way later than usual, they tend to drink way more than usual, and then, at 12:01am, it's almost like - well, here we are. A brand new year.

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New Year's is one of those holidays that doesn't celebrate a historic event, like Thanksgiving, for instance. And it doesn't celebrate something that occurs on that day, like the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, the day the sun reaches the middle of its transit across the sky.

New Year's is the day we celebrate the changing of the calendar. Because that is always when the calendar changed, right? Well, you probably know that January 1st hasn't always been the first day of the year. In fact, many cultures consider other days of the year as the first day of the calender. The Chinese New Year is celebrated on the first day of the lunar calendar - at least it is connected to some celestial occurrence. The year of the ox begins on January 26, 2009. The Jewish New Year begins on Rosh Hashana, a Hebrew phrase for "first of the year." That is set to occur about 163 days after Passover - in 2009, that is September 18th.

Orthodox Christians celebrate New Year's on our January 14th - you see, they use the Julian calendar, which is a bit different from the Gregorian Calendar that much of the western world uses.

So why do we celebrate the new year on January 1st? The reason seems to be connected to the ancient Romans.

They, as you know, came up with the calendar we use. Each month was named after a caesar - which became a problem when they all got jealous as to how many days their month contained, leading them to steal from other months, which is the reason why February gets so short-changed ever year, even in a leap year.

Anyway, the Romans apparently celebrated the beginning of a new solar year on March 15th. Then, in 153 BC, they began allowing Roman consuls to begin serving their terms earlier in the calendar - apparently for military reasons. That day was January 1st, and from then on, was the day much of the world would celebrate the beginning of the new year.

So given its history, the tradition of January 1 as the first of the year is on shaky ground. Here is another thing to consider:

The reason we have years in the first place is because of the Earth's transit around the sun. It takes our planet 365.25 days to do one loop around our star. Yes, not 365, 365.25. Every four years, we need to add a day - four quarters equals one whole - and that is a leap year. So, the point the Earth reaches in its orbit on January 1st, 2009, is not necessarily the same point it reached on that day in 2008, or will reach in 2010. It's just a made up date, man. It is arbitrary.

Oh, the other reason why New Year's is no biggie for me, is because I'm typically in bed at the strike of midnight, given my work schedule. I arbitrarily set my alarm for 2:15am.

I'm Matt O'Donnell, and that's your Deep Six.

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