Friday, March 24, 2023

Celebrating New Year's in March?

 'Twas not too long before the American Revolution that the coming and celebration of  the New Year was observed in the month of March rather than in January.
Yes,  March.
March 24th - New Year's Eve - Seeing the old year out, 
and welcoming the new year in.
You see,  according to the ancient Julian Calendar,  New Year's Eve was on the evening of March 24,  and therefore,  New Year's Day was March 25th.  This practice lasted for a great many of the time until the year 1752. 
Now,  pay attention,  for it gets a little complicated here:  
I can only imagine the confusion
this caused.
according to numerous sources  (linked at the bottom of this post),  it was way back in 45 B.C.,  that Julius Caesar ordered a calendar consisting of twelve months based on a solar year.  This calendar employed a cycle of three years of 365 days,  followed by a year of 366 days  (leap year).  When first implemented,  the  "Julian Calendar"  also moved the beginning of the year from March 1st to January 1st.  However,  following the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century,  the beginning of the new year was gradually realigned to coincide with Christian festivals.  By the seventh century AD,  Christmas Day marked the beginning of the new year in many countries.
But it was in the ninth century that parts of southern Europe began observing the first day of the new year on March 25 to coincide with Annunciation Day,  or Lady Day,  when Christians celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin.  This was the church holiday that occurred nine months prior to Christmas celebrating the Angel Gabriel's revelation to the Virgin Mary that she was to be the mother of the Messiah.  A fine example of this new year date comes from Adam Winthrop,  when,  on March 25,  1620,  he wrote in his diary,  "The new year beginneth."
And because the year began in March,  records referring to the  first month  pertain to March;  to the second month pertain to April,  etc.,  so that  "the 19th of the 12th month"  would be February 19.  In fact,  in Latin,  September means seventh month,  October means eighth month,  November means ninth month,  and December means tenth month.  Use of numbers for months,  rather than names,  was especially prevalent in Quaker records.
So,  why the change from March to January?
During the Middle Ages,  it became apparent that the Julian leap year formula had overcompensated for the actual length of a solar year,  having added an extra day every 128 years.  However, no adjustments were made to compensate.  By 1582,  seasonal equinoxes were falling 10 days  "too early,"  and some church holidays,  such as Easter,  did not always fall in the proper seasons.  So in that year of 1582,  Pope Gregory XIII authorized  the  "Gregorian"  or  "New Style"  Calendar.  As part of the change,  ten days were dropped from the month of October,  and the formula for determining leap years was revised so that only years divisible by 400  (e.g.,  1600,  2000)  at the end of a century would be leap years.  January 1st was then established as the first day of the new year.  
However,  though most Roman Catholic countries adopted this,  Protestant countries,  including England and its colonies,  did not recognize the authority of the Pope and continued to use the Julian Calendar.
But March is so much warmer!
So between 1582 and 1752,  not only were two calendars in use in Europe  (and in European colonies),  but two different starts of the year were in use.  Although the  "Legal"  and more traditional year began on March 25,  the use of the Gregorian calendar by other European countries led to January 1st becoming more commonly celebrated as  "New Year's Day"  and given as the first day of the year in almanacs.
It wasn't until 1750 that an act of Parliament in England changed the calendar dates to align with the Gregorian Calendar,  meaning that they now also began their legal new year on January 1st.
Henceforth,  New Year's celebrations will take place on the evening of December 31st and lasting into the following day. 
Is my birthday on
February 11?
February 22?
Heck!  I'll take  'em both!
I hope you're good at math - - for as a result and to become aligned,  people born before 1752 had to add 11 days to their birth dates.  For example,  the day following February 1st in that year was not February 2nd.  It was February 11th.  Also,  those individuals born between January 1st and March 24th before 1752 had to add a year to be in sync with the new calendar,  for reason being the change of  New Year's Day going from March 25th to January 1st.   This confusing double dating process was used in Great Britain and its colonies,  including America.
Whew!  Did you get all that?
Read it again...slowly...out loud.  It actually does make sense,
Now,  imagine if,  like George Washington,  your birth occurred during this time;  for 47 of his 67 years,  Washington celebrated two birthdays.  The first was the date on which he was born in 1732 - February 11th.  
The second took place on his Gregorian birthday,  on February 22nd.  
Although at first many colonial communities refused to go along with this,  George Washington apparently took the change in stride and,  from 1752 on,  accepted February 22nd as his birthday.  On the other hand,  he didn’t completely ignore his old February 11th birthday.  For instance,  in 1799 he attended a gala birthday party in his honor in Alexandria,  Virginia,  on February 11th,  writing in his diary that night that he  “went up to Alexandria for the celebration of my birthday.”
Eleven days later,  on February 22nd,  1799,  he celebrated his second birthday of that year which turned out to be the last of his life.  He died ten months later,  on the evening of December 14,  1799.

The sun rises on a new spring.
The sun rises on a new year.
Either way,  Springtime truly is the season of rebirth.
(A Tom Kemper photograph)
Many farmers continued to think of March as the beginning of the new year after the change,  and they did so clear into the 19th century...and some even into the 20th century.  And why wouldn't they,  for February's last days remained as they had always kept it,  and accounts and diaries were closed and inventories were made.  There was talk of spring and the new farm year.  All farm calendars and diaries,  almanacs and agricultural manuals continued to appropriately  (for them)  begin with March.  Sap was was the season of  preparations for planting,  for a turning out of the winter dirt,  a time for leaving the winter darkness and cold behind to look toward sunny warmth and renewal...a time for preparing for the rest of the year...rebirth. 
"The new year is at our door,"  says a diary entry of the period,  "spring is with us in March when we are yet sitting by the fireside..."
The majority of the populace in 18th century America knew the need to accomplish a successful growing season was of utmost importance,   It would set the pace for the rest of the year.
I can see why March 25 - so close to the vernal equinox - was considered New Year's Day.

Until next time,  see you in time.


Sources came from THIS site and THIS site.

To learn of 18th century New Year's celebrations,  please click HERE
To learn of 18th century spring traditions,  please click HERE
To learn of early Easter celebrations,  please click HERE
To spend a year on a colonial farm,  please click HERE

~   ~   ~

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