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The History of New Year’s

Now that you’ve rung in 2020 with a glass or two of the bubbly and are most likely already rehashing the long list of resolutions you’ve made, and probably not kept, over the last decade, vowing to make a better effort this year, I thought I’d share some New Year’s history facts you probably don’t know. I’m sure you’ll find, like I did, that there’s a fascinating and lengthy history behind this widely celebrated holiday.

Many countries around the world celebrate the beginning of the new year. However, celebrating New Year’s is not new. Celebrations of the new calendar year have been around for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Babylon in 2,000 B.C. The Mesopotamians marked the beginning of the new year by the first new moon after the vernal equinox, which took place sometime in late March. This was celebrated with a huge 11-day festival called Akitu. The festival involved a different ritual every day, celebrating the mythical victory of the sky god Marduk over the sea goddess Tiamat. This celebration also included the crowning of a new king or allowing the current ruler to continue his reign. According to the history books, this was the festival of all festivals and would put our present day New Year’s celebration to shame.

The Roman’s celebration of the new year also originally corresponded with the vernal equinox. Their early calendar, which according to tradition, was created in the eighth century B.C. by Romulus, the founder of Rome, consisted of 10 months (304 days), with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox. However, over the centuries, this calendar fell out of synch with the sun. Consequently, in 46 B.C., with the consultation of the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of the time, Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar. This was a solar-based calendar, instituting January 1st as the first day of the year. Caesar chose this day to honor the month’s namesake Janus, the Roman god of change and beginnings. This calendar resembles the modern Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.

By the middle ages, medieval Europe considered the January 1st celebrations of the new year pagan and unchristian-like. Consequently, in 567 A.D. the Council of Tours replaced the January 1st date with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25th or March 25th.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XII re-established January 1st as New Year’s Day, after the reform of the Gregorian calendar. Interestingly, although most Catholic countries immediately adopted this calendar, Protestant countries, like Britain and their American colonies, continued celebrating their new year in March until 1752.

So, now that I’ve astonished you with all these fascinating tidbits of New Year’s history, it’s time to begin or get back to the task at hand – formulating this year’s new and improved (LOL) list of New Year’s resolutions!

From our Intracoastal family to yours, here’s to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020…and sticking to your resolutions!

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