Why January One?

So why exactly do we celebrate new years day, the beginning of our new annual calendar, on January 1? Is there some line in space we cross as we orbit the sun? Is there some spectacular alignment of stars and planets that happens on this day? Is there any technical reason at all for this day to be the first day of the new year?
 
The simple answer is “Nope!” We could say it is because it is when days start getting longer, but the exact date for that would be determined by the winter solstice; not January 1 but, rather the 21st. or 22nd. of December.
 
Perhaps it is perihelion, the point where the earth is closest to the sun. Now it may seem strange for those in the northern hemisphere that this happens in winter as we might think that close to the sun would be warmer (it is!) but that is not the cause of the seasons. Perihelion occurs between the 2nd. and 5th. of January most years.
 
Janus God of BeginningsThe simple fact is, there is no technical or functional reason for January 1 to be the start of the new year. January is, however, named after the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions. Janus is typically depicted with two faces; one looking back to the past, the other looking forward to the future. The month named in his honor, then, seems to be the ideal place to begin the new year and that is what we do.
 
Of course that isn’t what everyone does. Even today, other cultures celebrate different, traditional, days as “New Years” and, historcally, that was the case more than not. In fact, even the western calendar didn’t originally set January 1 as new years day!


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