Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Happy New Year?

"Baby New Year"—cartoon by John T. McCutcheon. 
The New Year has, over time, had many beginnings. I am posting this essay on Easter Sunday (2012), and this day would have been considered the beginning of the New Year at certain times in French history. 

The Julian Calendar, established by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, declared January 1 the first day of the year.

With the advent of Christianity, however, efforts were made to move New Year’s Day to something of more religious significance, such as Christmas or Easter.

Some countries continued to use January 1 (the date of Christ’s circumcision) and other countries made changes. Consequently, by the 1500s the European calendar system was a mess, countries beginning the year on different dates.

Resurrection by Wenzel Hollar, completed during the 17th century

Since the 14th cenutry, most regions in France had been using Easter as the start of the year. (And doesn't spring simply feel like be beginning of the new year?) Using Easter as the date caused confusion, however, since Easter is tied to the lunar cycle and changes from one year to the next, so around 1500 many people in France began to use January 1 as the start of the calendar year.

For instance, in early sixteenth-century French books, it is common to see both forms of dating listed side-by-side. Just imagine the confusion when the French Revolution created yet another calendar.

King Charles IX of France
In 1563 King Charles IX of France decreed January 1 to be the first day of the year and was declared law the following year. (Britain didn't change the start of its calendar year to January 1 until 1752.)

With all the confusion, April Fool's Day was apparently born. (Read more about that here.)

Sandra Gulland
Author of The Josephine B. Trilogy and Mistress of the Sun

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