Origins of ordinary things: January as the first month of the year

When the clock strikes midnight on December 31, a new year begins. But it wasn’t always this way; January wasn’t always the first month of the year and January 1 wasn’t always the first day of the year. According to Wikipedia, an encyclopaedia, March 25 was originally New Year’s Day.

At the start, the Romans used a 10-month calendar. According to Conversation, an academic and journalistic platform, the calendar can be attributed to Rome’s legendary first king, Romulus. It is theorised that Romulus named the first month Martius after Mars, his son, and god of war. March is, therefore, a derivative of Mars.

January was added to the calendar around 70 BC to make 12 months in a year, thus, January and February became the second last and last months of the year respectively. This is according to the Time and Date website.

The month of January was named after Janus, the Roman god of doors and beginnings. Janus is said to have had two faces—one facing forward and the other facing backwards because he knew the past and could look into the future. This is according to Oxford Dictionaries. 

In 45 BCE, the beginning of the year was moved to January 1 by then Roman Emperor Julius Caesar. According to Live Science, an information resource, Caesar moved the beginning of the year to January 1 because it was the day the two highest elected political officials known as consuls took office.

According to Time and Date, the following year, Emperor Caesar added one day to the month to make it 31 days. Julius is credited with creating the Julian calendar which was in use for many centuries.

By the Middle Ages (5th to 16th centuries) in some continents, the celebration of New Year’s Day on January 1 was rejected with the notion that it was pagan. In Europe, for instance, New Year’s Day was celebrated on December 25 instead. Another reason why January 1 was rejected, according to History, an education platform, was that the Julian calendar was found to be faulty with an 11-minute error in the calculation of a solar year.

Towards the end of the 16th Century AD, Pope Gregory XIII reformed the Julian calendar and thereafter re-established January 1 as New Year’s Day. According to education platform Web Exhibits, the new calendar was widely met with resistance with the suspicion that it was created to prevent Christians from worshipping on the correct days. It was called the work of the Antichrist.

It took two centuries before the Gregorian calendar was generally accepted. In some countries such as Russia, it was accepted as late as the 20th Century. The Gregorian calendar is what is in use today around the world with January as the first month of the year.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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