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Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
When Does the New Year Begin?
Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA
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Commemorating the New Year - But When??
Joyce M. Tice

New Year’s is my favorite holiday. I like the idea of finishing one cycle and starting another. In a year our planet orbits the sun once and we go through our whole four-season cycle. This process has become part of the psyche of our species and is reflected in all our human cultures. From the nature-based agricultural cycle that sustains us to the accounting cycle by which we measure our business progress, calculate our tax liability and close the books, our annual trip around the sun defines all that we do on this planet. It’s like going around the board in a Monopoly game except that instead of passing Go and collecting $200, we fill out our 1040 form, pay our taxes, plant our seeds, and go around again.

But, when does the year really start? Where does a circle begin or end? The Celts started the new year November 1 at the end of the previous agricultural cycle. Until fairly recent times in Europe and its satellites the year began at the vernal equinox, around March 25. This takes the opposite approach by measuring from the beginning of the agricultural season to come. It also drives genealogists to distraction trying to remember that until sometime in the mid 1700s in this British colonial country, March 24, 1720 was followed a day later by March 25, 1721. It boggles our Janus-centered minds. If we could end the year with the Celts and start it again with the vernal equinox, we could bypass winter altogether. This is an appealing proposition to all but hard core skiers. A lot of us would be very happy with that.

In about 153 BC, the Romans were the first to establish January 1 as the start of the year. The month was named for the god Janus whose two faces looked both to the past and to the future. He was the portal – the door that closed and the door that opened. This did not catch on, though, for quite a long time. January 1 symbolized nothing that made sense to agrarian people so most societies ignored it. In 1582 Pope Gregory decreed that January 1 started the year, and so it did, eventually. Protestant Great Britain finally adopted it in 1752, not even two centuries after the decree.

My personal preference for the start of the new year is the winter solstice around December 20. As soon as I get the first glimmer that a day is longer than the one before, I get an immediate and intense attack of spring fever. My green thumb starts twitching. I become insanely hopeful. I start planning the garden, order a five-year supply of seeds from the nursery catalogs, and launch my annual pre-gardening frenzy. By mid January I am planting seeds under lights even though I know it is way too early. Both Christmas and the January 1st New Year correspond to the first lengthening of daylight, so it feels like the right time to start the year to me.

The New Years Resolution tradition was begun by the Babylonians whose most common promise was to return borrowed farm tools. In the United States we resolve to curb our excesses - stop smoking, lose weight, pay off our credit cards. Whenever our new year begins, it is indeed a good time for looking back, learning from both our successes and our failures, and moving on to do better in the coming cycle. I resolve to order fewer seeds this year or use up the excess from last year. Reflect on the past and resolve for the future and Happy New Year 2007.

Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA

Published On Tri-Counties Site On 31 DEC 2006 
By Joyce M. Tice
Email: Joyce M. Tice

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