Different beginnings for the new year

There’s no specific reason why the new year has to roll over every 1st of January and ever since the earliest days of the Julian calendar there have been alternatives. Below you can find six of the most commonly used starting dates that have been in use throughout Europe:

1 January: this date was used before our era, during the reign of Gaia Iulia Caesar (* 100 BC - † 44 BC). The Christian Church did not recognize this day as the beginning of the year, as there was no relevant church holiday to celebrate on this date. However, rather than trying to cancel the beginning of the year, the church began to celebrate this day as the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord. Over time, the holiday grew in popularity, and entered common use in Europe by the 16th century.

1 March: this date was used in ancient Rome until 190 BC and saw usage by the Christian community during the early Middle Ages. This is likely due to the fact that the nineteen-year monthly cycle began in March, the date on which the calculation of Easter day hinged.

25 March: this was a very widespread beginning of the year used in the Middle Ages. According to Christian tradition, this day was considered to be the beginning of the earthly existence of Christ (incarnation). There were two styles in use where the number of the year differed; some had one year more and others had one year less than calendars that used 1 January as the year’s starting date.

The beginning of the year at Easter: for some, the year began with the most important Christian holiday. The key problem with this was that Easter is a moving holiday, so the year doesn’t typically start on the same day. This caused some years to be shorter and sometimes days went missing. In other years you had the opposite problem, with some years ending up longer, and some days occurring twice. To fix this, these days were either put onto the beginning of the year (ante pascha) or were appended to the end of the year (post pascha).

1 September: this beginning of the year (before our 1 January) is related to the Byzantine era’s conception of existence since the creation of the world. It was primarily used in the Eastern Roman Empire and spread out to Russia and the Balkan Peninsula. To this day, the Greek Orthodox Church still uses it as the start of the year.

25 December: the day of Christ’s birth was seen as a sensible beginning for the Christian year, with this day’s usage being most widespread during the Middle Ages, which caused the numbering convention for each year to occur before 1 January.