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6 Little-known facts about the history of New Year’s

Woman holding Sparkler

Carlos Dominguez | Unsplash

Sophia Swinford - published on 12/29/17

New Year's Eve hasn't always been champagne and Times Square ...

Most people know the stories behind Christmas and Hanukkah, but have you ever wondered how New Year’s celebrations began? Who decided the year begins in January?

To satisfy your curiosity, here’s a little history of New Year’s in 6 quick facts!

  1. When did it begin? New Year’s has been celebrated since at least 2000 B.C., but not in January. Ancient Mesopotamians celebrated New Year’s in mid-March, and the Greeks celebrated it with the winter solstice. Meanwhile, the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians restarted their calendars at the fall equinox.
  2. The celebration of Akitu. Ancient Babylonians, who also heralded in the new year in mid-March, called this festival Akitu, a word that comes from a Sumerian word for barley, which would have been cut around the same time.
  3. Early Romans left their mark. Early on in its infamous life, Rome designated March 1 as the beginning of the new year, but this calendar consisted of only 10 months. Vestiges of this fact still remain in our calendar today; for example, “September” comes from “septem” which means seven, indicating that it was once the seventh month of the year.
  4. Numa switches it up.The months of January and February were established in 700 B.C. by the second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius. New Year’s day was celebrated on January 1 for the first time in the year 153, a decision that reflected the civil election of Roman officials.
  5. New Year’s gets banned. In Medieval Europe, celebrations of the New Year on January 1 were temporarily outlawed due to possible pagan influence. During this time, the start of the new year was recognized on various days, including Christmas, March 25 — the Feast of the Annunciation — and Easter Sunday.
  6. Even ancient people made resolutions.New Year’s resolutions likely began with the ancient Babylonians, who, with the start of each new year, vowed promises to pay off debt or do some other noble deed in order to please the gods.


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