On this day in history : 1st January 1752 – The Catholic Church adopts the 1st of January as the beginning of the New Year – instead of the 25th of March….

It was with the fall of Rome and the spread of Christianity throughout Europe that the 25th of March came to be recognised as the start of the year…. The existing New Year was seen as a Pagan festival – and was not to be observed….

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Head of Janus, Vatican Museum, Rome – Loudon dodd – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

The Romans had a god – ‘Janus’ – who had two faces….one looking backwards and the other one looking forwards…. Janus was known as the god of gateways and Julius Caesar thought him a good choice to represent the New Year – looking back on the old year – and ahead to the new…. So, the first day of January – the namesake of Janus – became the official start of the new year…. Many a drunken Roman orgy was held in celebration….

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Roman Orgy in the Time of Caesars, 1872 – Henryk Siemiradzki – Public domain

With the arrival of the Christian Church came no tolerance for such heathen goings-on…. The New Year was changed to the 25th of March – the date upon which the Virgin Mary learned that she was to become the mother of Jesus…. In the eyes of those who spread the message of Christianity this was a far more fitting way of acknowledging a new year….

However, problems arose – as the Julian calendar does not align with the solar year…. To add to the confusion some chose to use Christmas Day, or even Easter Sunday, as the start of the year…. Chaos reigned – but everybody continued to bumble along the best they could…. Eventually it was Pope Gregory XIII who decided that enough was enough….. Being fed up with having to juggle the dates of important annual Christian festivals – (by 1582 a difference of 10 days had occurred between the alignment of the Julian and solar calendars) – Gregory decided to devise the Gregorian calendar….

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Pope Gregory XIII – Public domain

Most countries quickly adopted the new calendar…. England, Ireland and the British colonies eventually adopted it in 1752…. Scotland, being ahead of the game, had already made January 1st the start of their new year in 1622….

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Detail of the tomb of Pope Gregory XIII celebrating the introduction of the Gregorian calendar – Photo: Rsuessbr – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

For a long while there were some European countries who kept the Julian calendar….and indeed, even today, the Easter Orthodox Church still follows it….

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One of the first printed editions of the new calendar – Aloysius Lilius – Public domain

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