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The celebration of the new year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. In the years around 2000 BC, the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon (actually the first visible crescent) after the Vernal Equinox (first day of spring). This coincided with approximately 23rd-25th March on the Julian Calendar.

The beginning of spring is a logical time to start a new year. After all, it is the season of rebirth, of planting new crops, and of blossoming. It symbolized new growth and a time to look forward to the future the same meaning that the new year holds for people today. January 1, on the other hand, has no astronomical nor agricultural significance. It is purely arbitrary. The Babylonian new year celebration lasted for eleven days. Each day had its own particular mode of celebration, but it is safe to say that modern New Year’s Eve festivities pale in comparison. The Romans continued to observe the new year in late March, but their calendar was continually tampered with by various emperors so that the calendar soon became out of synchronization with the sun.

In order to set the calendar right, the Roman senate, in 153 BC, declared January 1 to be the beginning of the new year. The acceptance of the changed date was delayed. This might be due to some of its arbitrary nature that we have already pointed out. The date was unusual. For, unlike the customs prevalent till then, no agricultural or seasonal significance was attached to it. Instead, it was just a civil date, the day after the elections when the consuls would assume their new positions in the Roman empire.

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