11.720 Southlight 56 EE. As people celebrate New Year’s Day around the world, it’s worth asking why the New Year has been set on January 1st. The simple answer is that Julius Caesar set up the Julian Calendar that way. But the actual history is, in fact, a lot more complicated. In fact, at one point, (Roman) Pagans were celebrating New Year’s Day on January 1 and Christians were, for the most part, celebrating it on March 25.
Roman Kingdon, Republic and Empire
The original Roman calendar had it’s New Year’s Day in March. The oldest Roman calendars relied on the physical signs of spring, rather than counting a certain number of days each year.. March through December covered 304 days over ten months and following that, the calendar had “no date” for roughly 61 days through the winter until physical signs of spring again welcomed the new year. King Numa Pompilus, who ruled Rome from 715-672 BCE) added January and February to the calendar to fill those blanks. He also started the Cult of Janus and built a temple to Janus, a god whose two faces looked forward and backward. Julius Caesar changed it to January 1 for reasons that are debated but not clear. One possible reason is that Janus is considered the god of beginnings and passages. Having the first month named after him makes sense in that context.
The Catholic Church in the 6th and 16th centuries CE
As Christianity grew in Europe, there was a desire to move away from the Roman Pagan traditions. As part of that effort, The Council of Tours in 567 CE established March 25 as the New Year. This was tied to the Feast of Annunciation, which celebrates the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to inform her she would be the mother of Jesus. The date of the Annunciation was set nine months prior to Christmas, on December 25. *
Pope Gregory XIII updated the Christianized Julian Calendar by establishing the Gregorian Calendar in 1582. The purpose was to align the year more closely with the seasons–specifically to keep Easter in the spring. But while issuing that calendar correction, he also moved New Year’s Day back to January 1. But Protestant countries including Britain held out on implementing the Gregorian Calendar until 1752. Likewise, March 25 was celebrated as a New Year by British colonists in America until the big changeover in 1752. But now this has become a worldwide calendar.
Celebration of New Year’s Day continues in the spring continues in many parts of the world, including, notably, Iran. In fact the Iranian Calendar–known officially as the Solar Hijri Calendar–is more accurate than the Gregorian calendar. The New Year is tied astronomically to 0 degrees Aries, which is when the most direct sunlight hitting the Earth crosses north over the Equator and brings greater warmth to the Northern Hemisphere. And a Pashto version of the calendar actually names the months after the signs of the Zodiac. While Islam has generally looked down on astrology as a divination tool, Western astrology was still useful to Muslim scholars studying astronomy navigation.
Many Pagans have tended to look backwards at older calendars as a part of the process of restoring old traditions. Many celebrate the New Year around Samhain–what is widely today known as Halloween. The Germanic and Celtic peoples both had lunisolar calendars whose New Year’s Days started at the beginning of what they considered to be the beginning of winter.
Personally, I find the lunisolar calendars fascinating but impractical. In some ways, they are very nature-based given that they use lunar months, which are observable and therefore easy to follow. However, given that twelve lunar months is eleven days less than the solar year, keeping the calendar aligned with the seasons requires a leap month every few years.
Each entry in this blog starts with the date according to the Earth Epic Calendar. Its appeal to me is that it’s symmetrical, and easy to divide into close to equal units. It places the days of the equinoxes and solstices in the middle of each quarter. As a result, the quarters with the Solstices in the middle (Southlight and Northlight) consist of the longest or shortest days of the year, depending on which time of year and hemisphere you’re in, and the quarters with the Equinoxes in the middle consist of the days of the year the lengths of day and night are closest to equal (Eastcross and Westcross). And a lot of Pagans will be happy to know that New Year’s Day in the Earth Epic Calendar is right around Samhain. Specifically, 15 degrees Scorpio, which falls around November 7 or 8 every year.
I use the Earth Epic Calendar as part of my spiritual practice because of how the calendar aligns with the Earth and addresses the true history of our Earth. I believe that aligning with the Earth in this way is important given the way that we are mistreating the Earth and ourselves.
*The reason that December 25 itself was selected as the date to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ is complicated itself and subject to debate. While a lot of Christians acknowledge the Pagan origins of many Christian holidays, there is still debate over the origin of using December 25th.