Why January 1st?

Ever wonder why January 1st is the first day of the year? You don’t? Well, you should. And while you’re about it, do you ever wonder why January is the first month of the year? I was born in January so I sort of like the idea that my month starts the whole year off. If I had my way I’d make the first day of the year the 12th of January (yes, you guessed it, that’s my birthday and if you’re looking to buy me something I like luxury cars and my favorite color is gun metal blue/gray). But I digress. All over the place.

Since this is the beginning of the New Year, what better time to educate you (whether you like it or not) on why New Year’s Day is on January 1st. Once upon a time, in 45 B.C. to be exact, New Year’s Day was celebrated on January 1 for the very first time in history when the Julian calendar took effect. Then, soon after becoming Roman dictator, guess what Julius Caesar did. No, he did not invent the Caesar salad. No, Big Julie decided that the traditional Roman calendar was in dire need of reform. The guy was thinking big time, no silly little government sponsored healthcare programs for him. He went after the whole world’s calendar with his bare hands.

Since its introduction around the seventh century B.C., the Roman calendar attempted to follow the lunar cycle but with somewhat limited success. It frequently fell out of phase with the seasons and had to be corrected (kind of like my fluctuating body weight). And not only that, but the pontifices, that’s the Roman body charged with overseeing the calendar, often abused its authority by adding days to extend political terms or interfere with elections. Which sounds a little like the Democrats, don’t you think?

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 and follow the solar year, as did the Egyptians. So he figured if it was good enough for Cleo, it was good enough for him. 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. (You see, he had this bad inkling about March, the ides and all that kind of stuff.)

He also decreed that every four years a day be added to February, the idea being to keep his calendar from falling out of step. Not unlike Obama changing the healthcare law any time he needs to in order to suit his political agenda. See, all these emperors think alike.

Shortly before his assassination in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar changed the name of the month Quintilis to Julius (July) after himself. Only a pompous, egocentric, narcissist would name a month of the year after himself. (So far, our pompous, egocentric, narcissistic leader has only named healthcare legislation after himself, but who knows what the future holds. He’s still got three years to go.) Later, the month of Sextilis was renamed Augustus (August) after his successor, another pompous, egocentric narcissist.

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 for the latter was that 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 seven days by the year 1000, and 10 days by the mid-15th century.

The Roman church became aware of this problem, and 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 en masse on January 1 to celebrate the precise arrival of the New Year. All thanks to a guy named Gregory, which happens to be my name, too. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I could go on and on with this thing, but maybe I shouldn’t.