Happy New Year…Or Is It?
Vincent Plant discusses whether we should change our definition of the year
January 1st is, at least in the west, the start of the new year. When thinking about this, it seems rather strange that this date was chosen. According to the Met Office, winter of this year began on the 22nd December 2019 and will end on the 20th March 2020. This means that new year is right in the middle of a season, which seems a rather strange and arbitrary starting point. The same goes for Chinese new year, which is the 25th January 2020. Would it make more sense to revamp our calendar?
The question is, if we had the power to change the new year to be more in line with the seasons, should we?
Sources disagree whether it was the Romans or Pope Gregory XIII who set January 1st as New Year’s Day. However it came about, other cultures used more natural calendars; ancient Mesopotamia celebrated Akitu, or new year, during the vernal equinox (anytime between 19th and 21st March), while Greece used the winter solstice (December 20th) and ancient Egyptians may well have used July 20th as the start of the new year.
The question is, if we had the power to change the new year to be more in line with the seasons, should we? It might make more sense in terms of natural seasons, but, in my view at least, New Year’s Day is fine where it is. After all, our calendar has got to be the way it is through innumerable small changes which have accumulated over our history, almost parallel to evolution. Moreover, nature’s timekeeping is far from perfect; the day is not exactly 24 hours long, leading to leap years every four years. In fact, it may well be likely that we will have a February 30th in the future as a result of continuing inaccuracies.
On top of all of this, moving the New Year might be too confusing, too unsettling, for society to adapt quickly. This date may well have been with us for thousands of years. Although it’s a strange date, it might be better from a societal perspective that it stays right where it is.