Celebrating the turn of the year has been a tradition upheld for millennia. Despite this however, January 1st has not always been the chosen date to mark the special day.
It is believed that the earliest year celebrations of new year’s took place roughly in 2000 B.C – and in this blog, we will look at what happened during this era, with some extra examples leading up to the modern day!
Years ago, in ancient Mesopotamia, the Babylonians would gather in late March/early April (which was the first month of the Babylonian year, known at the time as ‘Nisannu’) to celebrate the festival known as Akitu. During this multiple-day festival, the Babylonians would celebrate the sowing of barley and the fertility of the land.
There were two sites in which the festival took place: the temple (known as the ‘Esagila’) that was built to honour the Babylonian God Marduk, and a building located in the northern section of the city, known as the ‘house of the New Year’.
The festivities began on 4 Nisannu, during which the high priest of the Esagila declared the beginning of the new year. Beyond this point, various activities took place:
It was during the reign of the Romans that the date of the New Year was changed to January 1st – rather than March 1st. This was down to Julius Caesars decision to honour the Roman God, Janus (the God that January is named after).
The Roman God Janus symbolised looking back at the years gone and looking forward to those ahead – being depicted with two heads facing either way. The celebrations that took place during the day included gift giving, parties, drinking, large feasts, and dancing. Gifts would also be presented as an offering to Janus himself, in hopes of gaining good fortune for the coming year.
It was also customary for many Roman citizens to work some of the day itself, which would be a good omen for the year to come.
Up until the 16th century, during medieval times New Year was changed once again to being on the 25th of March. At the time, celebrations associated with the New Year’s were shunned as Pagan and non-Christian. As such, many opted to celebrate the new year in coincidence with the celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation of Mary.
Years later, during 1582, the Gregorian calendar restored January 1st as the day of the new year for most Catholic countries, which came in the form of the Feast of Fools, an event linked to the celebrations of Christ’s Mass – which you can read about in our last blog post. This event involved drinking, slaves and servants openly insulting their masters, cross-dressing, and as the name suggests, grand feasts.
The change to the 1st of January was delayed for many protestant countries – for example Britain didn’t adopt this new date until 1752.
In comparison to the traditions of old, modern day new years are mostly focused around seeing friends, family and loved ones – drinking alcohol, eating meals together, sharing stories, and making new year’s resolutions.
We hope that you all have an excellent New Year’s Eve, and a great start to 2022 with New Year’s Day!
If you find yourself with some spare time this New Year’s weekend, why not have a read of our other blogs?