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Q&A: Why the Year Starts on January 1st

28 Dec 2015, 07:01 UTC
Q&A: Why the Year Starts on January 1st
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Question: Why does the new year start on January 1st, rather than some other date? — RA, Greenwich, England
Answer: That’s a good question, the answer to which goes back many moons. Fact is, the “start date” of the year differs among cultures. There’s currently about 40 different calendars in use around the globe. China, for example, celebrates the new year on a variable date between January 21 and February 20.
Western society uses the “Gregorian Calendar,” decreed by Pope Gregory (with the help of his Jesuit astronomers) way back in 1582 AD. It’s a modified version of the “Julian Calendar,” decreed by Julius Caesar in 45 BC. Both calendars used January 1st for the start of their new year.
Of course, whatever date one chooses to start the year, one (1) year is defined as the amount of time it takes Earth to complete one (1) orbit around the Sun. The calendar start date was an arbitrary choice made by Caesar. Some historians say his choice was motivated by political or religious concerns — we don’t really know for sure. Interestingly, Janus was the Roman god of transitions: one of his two faces looked back to the past, and ...

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