Thursday, January 1, 2015

Starting Anew

A notable aspect of New Year’s Day is that it has no anchorage in anything traditional—or seasonal. Going by western history, an early Roman calendar was that of Romulus (circa 771 BC). In that calendar the year began on March 1—and the calendar did not even have a January or a February; there were only ten months to a year. January and February make their first appearance under King Numa Pompilius (r. 715-673 BC), with the first day of January starting the year.

Under the calendar reforms of Julius Caesar, carried out in 46 BC, January retained its leading position—and does so to this day. Caesar’s year had 365.25 days; the earlier calendar had between 377 and 378 days, thus causing each month, each year, to “drift” from season to season. Under Pope Gregory XIII, the Gregorian calendar, introduced in 1582, further conformed the year to the actual movements of the sun just a tad more, to 365.2425 days. That has been good enough to last until today. Under the Gregorian calendar, however, Caesar’s January 1 became January 17—as the Gregorian made its correction.

Thus New Year’s Day, as we now find it, came about for (call it) scientific reasons—or the desire to have the months of the year conform to the seasons more or less perfectly, with one extra leap day added to every year divisible by 4. Years divisible by 100 are not leap years, however, unless they are also divisible by 400. Thus the year 2000 was a leap year but 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not.

For more detail on these numbers, see this post here (link).

While no tradition clings to New Year’s day, nonetheless it offers something all of us need at least once a year: a formal occasion for starting anew. Yes, for starting anew—with nothing else distracting from that resolution and, for those who overindulged on New Year’s eve, a strong motivation to clear the decks for the new and perfect life which every new year thus offers.

So, happy New Year! May your resolutions bloom!

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