A Journey Through Time: Celebrating New Year’s Around the World

Can you imagine watching the countdown crystal ball drop in New York’s Times Square in March?

That would be possible if most of the world didn’t adopt the modern calendar, which starts on January 1st.

The oldest recorded New Year celebrations date back to 2000 BC in ancient Mesopotamia, now Iraq. This festival is called “akitu” and lasts for up to 12 days, starting with the first new moon after the spring equinox (the day when day and night equal each other), usually in March. For the Babylonians of the time, the festival marked the coronation of a new king or the reaffirmation of loyalty to the current king.

The various calendars of peoples around the world tend to tie their New Year celebrations to other significant events – whether religious, astronomical or agricultural. Mesopotamia’s “Agentu” also coincided with the barley harvest season.

In China, the New Year has been celebrated for 3,500 years. The New Year begins with the second new moon after the winter solstice, usually in late January or February, marking the beginning of spring.

In ancient Egypt, the New Year began when Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, appeared around mid-July, just as the Nile River periodically flooded, which helped irrigate nearby farmland. And since the ancient Egyptians had a 12-month calendar with 30 days in each month, they would hold a five-day New Year celebration before the beginning of the first month to maintain the lunar cycle.

Before the emergence of Islam, there was no standard calendar in Arabia, but by 638 AD, the second Islamic Caliph Umar I tried to resolve the confusion in different calendars’ understanding of this important religious date by establishing the Islamic calendar. In the Islamic calendar, the new year begins on Muharram 1 (the first day of the first holy month), when the first new moon appears. The Islamic calendar chooses to start the era from July 16, 622 in the Julian calendar, to commemorate the day when the founder of Islam, Muhammad, moved from Mecca to Medina to establish the first Islamic state. The year 1446 of the Islamic calendar (also known as the Hijri calendar, which has only 354 or 355 days per year) begins on July 7 or 8, 2024, depending on where you are.

The ancient Roman calendar was completely different. The earliest known calendar there was established by the first king, Romulus, and began with the month of Martius (now March), which was also the time when a new consul (the highest elected office) came to power. But it only has 304 days or 10 months in a year, and there is a winter period between each year that is not included in the calendar. Around the 7th century BC, Numa Pompilius, the second king of ancient Rome, added 50 days to the calendar to cover winter, divided the year unevenly into 12 months, and added the door god Janus. The month of Ianuarius (now January) and the month of Lupercalia (Februarius, now February). By 153 BC, the inauguration ceremony of the new consul was moved to the month of Janus, the door god, although it was not fixed.

This may already sound like a familiar calendar, but it still has one key difference from the calendar used in much of the world today: the Roman calendar at the time was based on the moon, but due to the 29.5-day lunar phase cycle, the Roman calendar had would be out of sync with the solar year, so occasionally an extra month (i.e. a leap month) would have to be introduced to get back on track.

When Julius Caesar became dictator of Rome in 46 BC, he sought advice from the astronomer and mathematician Sosichenius to develop a new solar-based calendar. By 45 BC, the new Julian calendar was born, and the Roman Gregorian calendar year officially began on January 1. The Julian calendar also adds one day every four years (what we now call a leap year, such as 2024), but it overestimates the length of a solar year by about 11 minutes.

As the Roman Empire expanded, the Julian calendar was adopted in many parts of Europe, but its concept of the beginning of the new year was not embraced everywhere. For most Christian countries in medieval Europe, Christmas on December 25th marked the beginning of the new year, while in some other countries the start of the new year was on March 25th as part of the Feast of the Annunciation.

But the 11-minute error in the Julian calendar would have a cumulative effect over time: by the middle of the 15th century, the Julian calendar’s deviation from the Earth’s orbit around the sun had reached 10 days. The Catholic Church noticed this mismatch, and in the 1670s, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a new calendar that would resolve the discrepancy by making any century year (such as 1700) No extra leap days are obtained unless the year is divisible by 400 (such as the year 2000). The Gregorian calendar also officially marks January 1 as the beginning of the new year.

Much of the world came to accept the Gregorian calendar, which was renowned for its accuracy. Nonetheless, Britain and its American colonies were not quick to adopt it and refused to recognize the papal authority. For nearly 200 years, the British used both calendars and dated documents twice. However, by 1752, the two calendars differed by 11 days, and the London Parliament finally agreed to abandon the Julian calendar.

Even in many countries where the Islamic or lunar calendar is culturally more important, the Gregorian calendar is now widely used as the international standard Gregorian calendar by governments and businesses.

So, thanks to a long history from the first civilizations of Mesopotamia to Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory XIII, when the crystal ball dropped in Times Square, New York, on the night of December 31st, the world’s 8 billion Most people wish each other a Happy New Year!

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