Monday, January 01, 2007

How New Year's Day Came to Be

Some time in the 14th century, I think it was, a decision was made somewhere to move New Year's Day to January 1st. It had been Septuagesima Sunday up to then. You can even check this out easily by considering the names of some of the months. September, October, and November, and December ought to be the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months, if you go by the significance of the words, but they aren't. They used to be, and February was the twelfth, approximately, depending on Septuagesima Sunday. Historians need to be careful about the dating of events prior to the 14th century because of this.

I haven't researched the reasons for this, but one can easily surmise that the old new year's day was so designated because it was the time of the shifting one's liturgical gaze from the Nativity to the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord. As for the new new year's day, it is sensible to count the years -- anno domini, years of our Lord -- from the Lord's manifestation in the flesh. In the West this is observed December 25th, roughly the winter solstice, though I don't know why it's a few days off.

Perhaps it's because since it's better to start the year with the start of a month, the day of the Lord's circumcision and naming wound up being observed on the day of the year's beginning, January 1st, since it is the eighth day from His birth.

Eight is a big deal: it's the first day of a new week. It's a harbinger of Easter. This day is also a harbinger of Good Friday, of course, since it's the day of observing His circumcision in the flesh, the first shedding of His sacred blood.

So therefore, here's my guess: they counted back to December 25th to observe the nativity, after choosing the first of January to observe the circumcision and name, and to observe the new year. This would also serve to suggest an origin for the practice of making new year's resolutions; rather as if to say, "be renewed by the circumcision of your mind."

Anyhow, that's my unresearched but educated guess.


Lincoln - BoW said...

Actually, there is evidence that the date for Christmas comes from the ancient belief that people were concieved and died on the same day. In the west, the ancient church believed the date of the crucifixion to be March 25. In the east, April 6. Nine months on would be Dec. 25 (West) and Jan. 6 (East).



Carl Vehse said...

Some more information can be seen at A History of the New Year

Chris Jones said...

My friend Dr William Tighe wrote an article for Touchstone a few years ago which goes into the dating of Christmas in some detail. It can be found in the Touchstone archives here.

Bill's article doesn't address the dating of New Year's Day at all; but it does make clear that the choice of December 25 to celebrate the Nativity isn't dependent on anyone's notion of when the New Year ought to start.

Father Eckardt said...

All this would make the happenstance of January 1st, now New Year's Day, as the day of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus a most fortuitous convergence of unrelated things. Works out fine for me.

Latif Haki Gaba said...

Good Father Fritz,
I am no expert, of course, but it seems that the best way of perceiving this, like so many other issues, is that we are living with a system that contains within it remnants of an older system. Julius Caesar's solar year begins on 1 January, yet it preserved concepts that only make sense in the context of the older lunar year, such as the idea of lunar months, wherein the months only go up to ten (hence December, etc.) There are also other aspects of the older system that are preserved, if in some cases slightly adapted, in the Roman system. For example, in the Roman Martyrology, read at the end of the Office of Prime, if one looks at the Latin text, he can see strange dating methods, using the lunar concept of Ides, Calends and Nones, which must be translated into our system of months and days to make sense to us. For example, the martyrology of 1 January mentions the death of St. Basil the Great, and then states,
"His feast, however, is appropriately kept on the 14th of June, the day on which he was consecrated bishop."
But the Latin says it this way,
"Ejus autem festivitas potissimum agitur decimo octavo Kalendas Julii, quo die Episcopus ordinatus est."
Latif Gaba

Anonymous said...

I have copied your retraction on to my blog, Norman's Demesne. Your credibility takes a hit for this episode. Norman Teigen (I am not Mr. Anonymous, I just don't know how to jump through the hoops).