January 1, 2019

1st January in History––Did You Know?

By Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief, Southern Writers Magazine

So, did you know how New Year’s Day came about and when? If you read the History account, below, you will find it interesting; I can see several stories that could come from out of this account of January 1st and the calendar.

In 45 B.C., New Year's Day is celebrated on January 1 for the first time in history as the Julian calendar takes effect. Julius Caesar, soon after becoming Roman dictator, decided the traditional Roman calendar was in dire need of reform.

The Roman calendar introduced around the seventh century B.C., attempted to follow the lunar cycle but frequently fell out of phase with the seasons and had to be corrected. In addition, the pontifices, the Roman body charged with overseeing the calendar, often abused its authority by adding days to extend political terms or interfere with elections. (Imagine that!)

In designing his new calendar, Caesar enlisted the aid of Sosigenes, an Alexandrian astronomer, who advised him to do away with the lunar cycle entirely, follow the solar year, as did the Egyptians. The year was calculated to be 365 and 1/4 days, and Caesar added 67 days to 45 B.C., making 46 B.C. begin on January 1, rather than in March. He also decreed that every four years a day be added to February, thus theoretically keeping his calendar from falling out of step. Shortly before his assassination in 44 B.C., he changed the name of the month Quintilis to Julius (July) after himself. Later, the month of Sextilis was renamed Augustus (August) after his successor.

Celebration of New Year’s Day in January fell out of practice during the Middle Ages, and even those who strictly adhered to the Julian calendar did not observe the New Year exactly on January 1. The reason was Caesar and Sosigenes failed to calculate the correct value for the solar year as 365.242199 days, not 365.25 days. Thus, an 11-minute-a-year error added  10 days by the mid-15th century.

In the 1570s Pope Gregory XIII commissioned Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius to come up with a new calendar. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar was implemented, omitting 10 days for that year and establishing the new rule that only one of every four centennial years should be a leap year. Since then, people around the world have gathered in masses on January 1 to celebrate the precise arrival of the New Year.

We celebrate New Year’s Day. We close out the old year and welcome in the new year. Instead of looking back we look forward.

As authors, we do that in our writing. We look back to see what we finished; what we need to let go of and what we need to carry forward.

Most of all we look forward to new story beginnings. What the new year will hold for us as writers; and if you look closely, you will see a twinkle in our eyes, hoping for a bestseller.

Happy New Year!

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