Why do we celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1st? Have you have ever wondered this? I honestly hadn’t thought about it until recently when a friend posted something about it on Facebook. I’m sure in school at some time we had talked about the Julian calendar as well as the Gregorian calendar, but the origins of them had escaped me. But after my friend’s post, it made me wonder as to the origins of New Year’s Day. Why not celebrate the new year on say, August 12th? Or Sept. 1st?
To find the answer we must travel back in Roman history and through politics. Yes, it seems too often things boil down to politics. In the 7th century, the Romans instituted the lunar calendar which marked time by following the lunar cycle. However, it didn’t completely match the seasons. This meant the calendar often needed correcting; and such correcting was often abused to extend political terms or interfere with elections. In fact, January 1st was declared New Years in 153 BC because of the needed election of an official to happen sooner rather than later on March 1, the original New year. Things got so out of hand Julius Caesar stepped in around 46 BC and decided to fix it entirely. Under the help of an astronomer, they moved from the lunar cycle to the solar cycle and added a leap year. And rather than the year beginning in March, it was moved to January 1st. Interestingly, such became the standard. However, when the Gregorian calendar was later accepted in 1582 by mostly Catholic countries, many Protestant countries refused to celebrate New Year’s on Jan 1st and instead preferred the earlier tradition of March 1st. Some even so all the way up until 1752.
For most of us, we likely accept New Year’s has always been Jan 1. However, this obviously wasn’t always the case. As you’ve see, originally, it was simply done as political maneuver. The Church has even operated by its own calendar. At some times this was done so politically. For instance, the origin of Christmas being on Dec. 25thwas the taking over of a Roman holiday. All to say, we’ve often marked time differently in the Church for various reason.
One main reason is to note, as Isaiah says, “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, God’s ways are not our ways” (Isaiah 55:8-9). God doesn’t operate by our timelines or by our seasons. Rather God operates by God’s own schedule. Often what we discover is God operates in such a way at the perfect time for us. God shows up when we least expect it or at the most needed moment and changes our lives. God knocks us off the course we set and toward God’s course. As you celebrate a New Year, consider how your time might be altered by God. In what way has God set you on a new course? In what way do you need God to show up? Don’t be surprised though when God shows up on a different schedule!