1. January 1st was not considered a new year until recently. Most medievals celebrated New Year’s in mid-March, when melting snow followed by sprouting greenery signaled the awakening of new life.
2. The first medievals to celebrate the New Year on January 1st were the Romans in 153 B.C. January, as a month, did not even exist until Julius Caesar created a new calendar based on the sun instead of the moon.
In order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, he extended the year to 355 days. It was this new ‘Julian’ calendar that included the months of January and February, and heralded the celebration of the New Year in January.
3. Though sources are inconsistent due to some debate around exact dates and names, this is basically how the first ancient Roman calendar looked:
March – symbolic of Mars, the Roman god of war. March was the beginning of the year, and the time to resume any wars that had been halted due to impossible weather.
May – symbolic of Maia, the Italic goddess of spring
June – symbolic of Juno, the goddess of the Roman Pantheon, and of marriage and the well-being of women. Juno was the wife and sister of Jupiter.
July – Julius Caesar named this month after, guess who? Himself.
August – Augustus Caesar, great-nephew of Julius, tweaked his great-uncle’s calendar a bit, and re-named this month after himself.
September – December – tried and true. Save for the number of days – ranging from 29 to 31 (with the exception of October, which has always had 31 days) – these months have remained in place for all time.
4. New Year’s resolutions are nothing new, it turns out. This practice began with the ancient Babylonians, whose favorite resolution was the promise to return work equipment borrowed from neighbors throughout the year.
These resolutions were taken quite seriously. Rather than making them to themselves, Babylonians made them to each other as formal promises.
5. Many medievals believed the New Year brought luck in the form of round foods. The luckiest food?
Its circular shape symbolized completion of the full circle of a year. Munching donuts on New Year’s Day ensured a new year of health, wealth, and happiness.
What’s your New Year’s resolution?
See all 5 Medieval Facts of Life posts!