What Is The Origin Of…?


New Year and New Year’s Eve

Although the Romans ordered their months from January to December, it was not until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar – in 1751 in Great Britain – that the 1st January marked the start of the new year. Prior to that, Lady Day (March 25th) – the day when Mary was informed by Gabriel that she would bear God’s child – had been the start of the new year in England.

It is thought that Julius Caesar first had the idea that the new year should begin in January. January is named after the two-faced Roman god, Janus, and it is easy to see how it might be associated with the transition from one period to another. Roman new year festivities were characterised by drunkenness and disorder – sounds familiar!

According to Christian tradition, January 1st was the day of Christ’s circumcision when he was given the name Jesus.

Of course, many cultures still celebrate the start of the new year at different times. The Chinese New Year or the Lunar New Year occurs on the new moon of the first lunar month – between 21st January and 21st February inclusive. In many states in India the new year is celebrated in April as do the Nepalis whose new year falls on the first of Baisakh, 12th to 15th April.

The Islamic new year falls on 1 Muharram, and since their calendar is based on 12 lunar months equalling 354 days, there can, on occasions, be two Muslim new years in the same Gregorian year.

The Scots have appropriated New Year’s Eve or Hogmanay as their own. As is often the case, there is some confusion about the origin of the word Hogmanay. The Scandinavian word for the feast preceding Yule was Hoggo-not while in Flemish hoog min dag means great love day. Probably, though, the origin is from the French, homme est ne, In France the last day of the year, when gifts were exchanged, was known as aguillaneuf and in Normandy gifts given at that time were known as hoguignettes.

In 1693 the Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence noted rather snootily, “it is ordinary among some Plebians in the south of Scotland to go about from door to door upon New Year’s Eve, crying Hagmane”.

First footing is still common in Scotland, a tradition designed to ensure good luck to the household. The first visitor should be male, dark and bear coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and whisky. Apparently, blondes were associated with Vikings who brought nothing but trouble.

Wherever you are and however you choose to celebrate the passing of 2012 and the beginning of the new year, I wish you a happy, prosperous, healthy and peaceful 2013. Don’t forget you can get a collection of the WindowThroughTime blogs for free by e-mailing wttoffers@gmail.com

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