Friday, December 30, 2005
A Roman holiday, indeed
As we dive, with no choice, into 2006, the question arises: Did you know that New Year's Day in modern America was not always Jan. 1 and that it was Julius Caesar (a bust of the emperor pictured on right) who secured that day for the celebration?
The oldest holiday in the book was first observed in ancient Babylon 4,000 years ago. Around 2000 B.C., the Babylonian New Year began with the first new moon after the first day of spring. The beginning of spring is a logical time to start a new year because, among other things, Jan.1 has no astronomical or agricultural significance. It is a random choice and a reduced time limit for the party. You see, the Babylonian new year celebration lasted for 11 days; modern New Year's Eve festivities pale in comparison, even though the party hats are more festive.
The Romans continued to observe the new year in late March, until their calendar was tampered with by various emperors, most of whom tampered with anything they could get their hands upon, including nubile servants, male or female. So, the calendar soon became out of sync with the sun.
In order to set the calendar straight, the Roman senate, around 153 B.C., declared Jan. 1 to be the beginning of the new year. But emperors' tampering continued to the point where one emperor was called Alotus Tamperus behind his back. Julius Caesar, in 46 B.C., established the Julian Calendar almost immediately after using his name to describe a special blend of potatoes. That made Jan.1 New Year's Day again. But in order to synchronize his calendar with the sun, Caesar had to make the current year go on for 445 days instead of 365. This threw off the chariot racing season.