When IS “New Year” Anyway?

I know – it seems an unnecessary question, given the global broadcasts of January 1 each year. But, it is not really a simple question!

The Roman calendar dates back to around 753 B.C. and was, originally, a lunar-cycle calendar based on much older Greek lunar calendars with 10 months + 61 non-month-assigned winter days. The New Year began with the vernal equinox each Spring.

Around 713 B.C. the calendar was augmented/revised when Numa Pompelius assigned months to those previously unassigned winter days (thus, January and February). Original to this evolution, the end of February became the 1st of the new year.

This calendar was revised in 45 B.C. by Julius Caesar, designed to approximate a tropical/solar cycle. Even though they got the 365.25 days per year right-er, they were still off by about 11 minutes, which translates to nearly 3 extra days every 400 years – and what are you going to do with those 3 extra days?

Although printed versions of these early Roman calendars tended to run from January through December, many traditions celebrated the start of a new year at/about the vernal equinox right up through the middle ages! The Church linked this date to the time of annunciation: the 9-months-before-Christmas when Gabriel would have told Mary she was going to have a baby… so, the start of something new.

Enter Pope Gregory XIII (late 1500’s) and his Gregorian Calendar (the one in use today). The calendar changed a year from 365.25 days to 365.2425 days and fixed the extra day problem by changing the number of leap year cycles (added by the Julian calendar) from 100 cycles every 400 years to 97 cycles every 400 years [I am so glad they fixed that!]

By the time his calendar was more officially adopted by governments throughout Europe, the largely culturally influenced date of January 1 was being used to usher in the new year. This date was tied, by the Church, to the circumcision tradition… the 8th day after December 25.

So, there you have a skim across time showing the evolution of January 1 into New Year’s Day. BUT, it’s just not that easy! Oh, no. You see, many people groups still embrace different days for the new year to begin.

  • The historical Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah and is celebrated 10 days before Yom Kippur, or sometime in/about September.
  • The Islamic year is 11-12 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, so the date for the new year to begin bounces around. For example, this year it was December 7 and in 2011 it is November 26.
  • The Hindu calendar is built off of a blending of lunar and solar cycles, with lost months and extra months… I’ve read several articles and I’m still not sure when the new year starts there.
  • The Chineese calendar (which is also a luni-solar calendar, with a 19-year cycle) usually has  the new year begining some time between late January and mid to late February.
  • The classic, Christian calendar begins the new year with the Advent season – the retelling of the stories of the Christ, begining with the weeks before His arrival.
  • A good argument could be made for personal new years… begining the day that you start your next trip around the sun.


I think the reason is this: a chance to start over

  • correcting the errors of last year
  • learning/applying lessons that demonstrate growth
  • stretching for new heights

I think we all love that… long for that. The tradition of new year’s resolutions is based on that!

But, why wait for one time a year?

Jeremiah is generally accepted as the human author of the book of Lamentations (Holy Spirit gets the Divine creds). It is a collection of songs from around the time of the Fall of Jerusalem in about 587/6 B.C. They were tough times, and you can tell it from reading through the book. It is an emotional book. It is filled with grief-striken laments over the consequences of disappointing God.

And yet, tucked away in these hard words to read, there is a thread of hope… a hope for something new. Here is how Eugene Peterson paraphrased Lamentations 3:22-23…

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
   his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
   How great your faithfulness!

DID YOU SEE IT? New, merciful, loyal love every day.  

You and I, as we follow the Christ, do not have to wait for a one-time-a-year opportunity to start fresh! We get to start fresh every, single day. How incredible!!

So, here’s what I’m thinking… moving away from Happy New Year… no matter what day you count as the 1st day of the year… and moving to Joyous New Day… every day.

Hmmm, sounds like a New Day’s Resolution. Joy to you on the 1st day of your new year… and every day after.


About christmasandicecream

Grace & Peace to you all! I'm Randy. I am a follower of Jesus - sometimes close up and, sadly, sometimes way too far away. My best friend, administrative assistant, partner, and high school sweetheart all live with me and go by the same name: Adele. She and I are part of a relationally-focused, small group based Church family that helps us along spiritual quest. Our boys are both grown now. We have a wonderful daughter-by-marriage and 2 truly GRANDchildren... 1 boy and 1 girl. We are Corgi people and now oversee the care of 1 spoiled Corgi puppy named Elly May. I am a devoted fan of 2 'seasons' in each year: Christmas and baseball!! At my house, a Christmas tree goes up somewhere within days of the close of the Fall Classic (baseball lingo for the World Series) and a Christmas tree stays up all the way through Spring Training. In between it is non-stop celebration of the Incarnation. I live in the Mid-Atlantic part of the U.S.A. and, among other things, work as a coach and consultant with an incredibly diverse network of churches that make up the BCMD. My Church-roots are in the Baptist bucket of the Christian ice cream shop. But, just because I have a favorite flavor, doesn't mean I don’t like them all! I do. I work with things like soul care & leadership development of pastor/pastoral team members; with small, simple, organic models of church life; with relational strategies of spiritual formation; and with the health of the Church. I taught at New Orleans seminary for a decade and have served in local churches for 30 years. I am currently part of the faculty of Rockbridge Seminary – a new kind of seminary for a new kind of Church – where I also play a role on the Academic Council. *I am obliged to note that questions, comments, ideas, views,... just about anything you read here, are mine, and not those of BCMD, RS, any other organization or school I work for, or those of most normal people. Thanks for visiting. Come back again.
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