5 Facts about Medieval New Year’s

In this cartoon by John T. McCutcheon, the Baby New Year of 1905 runs old 1904 off into history .

In this cartoon by John T. McCutcheon, the Baby New Year of 1905 runs old 1904 off into history .

January 1st.  It’s New Year’s. The notion is ingrained in us as though there is some  significant point Earth strikes within its orbit on this day each year.  Scientifically speaking, there is no reason for the New Year to be on January 1st.  So I’ve found myself wondering this evening why the Western world has decided to observe New Year’s on January 1st.  So, in true nerd-fashion, I’m spending my New Year’s Eve researching New Year’s and since I’m obsessed with all things medieval, I’ve collected 5 fascinating factoids about the history of this infamous holiday in Medieval Europe.

Obscure Roman God Janus whom the month of January is named

Obscure Roman God Janus whom the month of January is named

5.  Julius Caesar declared January 1st as the New Year in 45 BC, starting the tradition.  Caesar chose the date because the month of January is named for the Roman God Janus, a two-faced God who looks to the future and past. The Council of Tours abolished January 1st as the beginning of the New Year in 567.

4.  It took 561 years for Europe to agree that January 1st was the start of the New Year.  Eastern European nations were the first to adopt the date in 1362 and Greece was the last to adopt it in 1923. (The Holy Roman Empire, which I write about in The Fairytale Keeper series, accepted January 1st as the New Year in 1544.)

3.  Medieval Europeans declared New Year’s a Pagan holiday; therefore, it was not celebrated.

2.  Medieval European countries observed the beginning of the New Year on different days.  Some countries recognized December 25th, Christmas, as the beginning of the New Year.  Some others observed March 5th and Easter as the New Year.  However, most of medieval Europe recognized the New Year as March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation.

Etching of William the Conqueror

Etching of William the Conqueror

1.  England’s New Year’s date changed many times throughout its history. Anglo-Saxon England kept December 25th as the New Year, but when William the Conqueror took over, he decreed that January 1st should be the New Year so it could coincide with his coronation, as well as the date of Christ’s circumcision (eight days after Christmas).  Years later, England united with the rest of Europe and set their New Year as March 25th.  March 25th remained the beginning of the New Year in England until 1752 when they switched back to January 1st.

 

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2 thoughts on “5 Facts about Medieval New Year’s

  1. Pingback: The New Year Through Time and History « UUCIF Parent Program Archives

  2. Pingback: The Roman God Janus and The New Year – Historica Graphica

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