This year, as you’re typing up your resolutions and watching the ball drop in New York City, give a nod of thanks to Janus, the Roman god of doorways and beginnings. It’s thanks to him that we celebrate the New Year on January 1.
January 1 isn’t a seasonal marker. The winter solstice falls a couple weeks earlier and the earth reaches its perihelion, or closest point to the sun, this year on January 4. In fact, the earliest recordings of New Years celebrations date from Mesopotamia and usually fall around the vernal equinox in March. Ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians marked the New Year in September. And the ancient Greeks tipped back their champagne goblets every year around the winter solstice in December. (Actually, champagne wasn’t invented until 1531.)
When Julius Ceasar first introduced the Julian calendar in 46 BCE, January 1 was decreed the start of the New Year, but the rest of the world didn’t always listen, and still celebrated on different days. In 1582, the Gregorian calendar reiterated January 1 as the first day of the New Year, and many countries adopted that calendar as their standard. The British Empire held back, though, and subsequently so did its colonies, including the American ones. It wasn’t until 1752, when Britain adopted the reformed calendar, that Americans finally toasted the New Year on January 1.
January is named after Janus, the Roman god of doorways and beginnings. How appropriate! He is usually shown with two back-to-back faces, one looking forward and one looking behind. And isn’t that what the New Year is all about? We’re bombarded by best-of lists that celebrate the year we’ve just completed and at the same time encouraged to think ahead to what we’re going to accomplish in the coming year.
On this cusp of 2015, we at Nomad wish you and yours a very happy New Year.