Let’s face it: January 1 is a lame day for celebrating the New Year. In our Northern hemisphere the weather is cold, and promises to get colder, and many people are still worn out after the celebrating Christmas for the past month. And with changes in the college football playoff system, sports enthusiasts are now relegated to watching merely penultimate bowl games on New Year’s Day.
Sure, January 1 falls around the time of the winter solstice—when the days begin to be longer—and the star Sirius is at its brightest on midnight every New Year’s. But in spite of the efforts of modern pagans, neither of these events enjoys widespread celebratory recognition in modern culture.
On the other hand, September 1 holds the promise of new beginnings for most people. It’s the time of harvest and the sowing of new seeds. The leaves are beginning to show their true colors. Students return to school with newfound energy. People are returning to work after a vacation rest. September 1 is when we should be celebrating the new year.
It turns out that there is some precedent for a September 1 new year. For many of the peoples in ancient Mesopotamia and around the Mediterranean, the new year began in Autumn. During the reign of Constantine, in 312 A.D., the starting date of the new year changed to September 1 to correspond with a new taxation cycle, and that date was used by the Byzantine Empire and variously throughout Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Today, the liturgical new year for 300 million Eastern Orthodox throughout the world still begins on September 1, and the Jewish liturgical new year still begins in September with Rosh Hashanah (it doesn’t usually fall on September 1 because the Jewish liturgical calendar is still aligned with the lunar cycles.)
[The Tower of Winds at the Vatican, where our current calendar was calculated.]
The first January 1 new year was recognized in the Roman Empire in 153 B.C. and made the official date of the new year with the new Julian calendar in 46 B.C. However, before 153 B.C., the Romans celebrated the new year on March 1, which marked the beginning of spring and a new agricultural cycle. And arguably, in our current culture, March 1 would be preferable to January 1, as it falls around the beginning of spring, which is a symbol of new life. It was with the Gregorian reform of the calendar in 1582 that New Year’s Day was officially returned to January 1 for much of the Western world.
The calendar was made for man, and not man for the calendar. With apologies to the IRS and accountants for the mess it would create, I say that we return the celebration of the New Year to September 1.