|Findings of bones with
carvings, dated to the time of colonization after the ice
ages, have been interpreted as recordings of a
kind of lunar calendar. The need for a calendar may have
been connected to hunting which of course at that time was
vital to survival.
With the advent of agricultural ages the
calendar was gradually reoriented towards the cycles of the
sun, probably because the sun is critical to farming. The
relation to lunar phases remained in many calendars for
very long and is still used in some cultures today.
The landmarks of a solar
year are (Swedish term in parentheses):
Winter solstice (Vintersolstånd), Vernal equinox
Summer solstice (Sommarsolstånd) and Autumn equinox
These points in the year were identified very early.
Although these points are generally important to farming
the start of the new year was selected
differently in different regions. The Nordic countries
selected the time close to the winter solstice.
In Rome (controlling southern Europe and
periodically other areas around the Mediterranean Sea) the
spring was selected as the start of the new year. This was
connected to the election of "consuls" (the
rulers in Rome) taking place in early spring and so the
month of "Martii" (March, the month of the God of
wars, Mars) was named the first month of the year. That is
the origin of the name "December" which is
"the tenth month" in Latin. Most of the other
names of months also come from the Roman calendars.
After the election of consuls the preparations for the
coming war campaigns started (wars were rarely fought in
the winter because of the adverse weather conditions).
Eventually the warlords were unhappy with the short time
available for training the soldiers so the start of the new
year was moved to Jan 1st in the year 153 B.C.
The Roman calendar before the emperor Julius Caesar was a
mix of an old lunar and the newer solar calendar. It became
increasingly difficult to calculate the extra month that
was put in at intervals to accommodate to the lunar phases.
So Julius Caesar implemented a new calendar, called the Julian
Calendar, in the year 46 B.C. The scientific basis was
created by the astronomer Sosigenes from Alexandria. This
calendar completely abandoned the connection to the lunar
phases and had 365 1/4 days in a year and, since you cannot
have a 1/4 day, put the extra full day in every 4th year -
the "leap day"
In December the Romans celebrated the "Saturnarii"
(related to the planet Saturn) with huge parties and also
giving of gifts. The latter may be a predecessor of our
Christmas presents although many other origins are possible
(e.g. the gifts from the "Three Wise Men"). These
celebrations became connected to the New Year after that
was moved to Jan 1st.
The Julian calendar was also changed to accommodate 12
months and the names used today all originate from this
The catholic church was not happy with these pagan
festivities and so the Church assembly at Tours,
France in the year 567 proclaimed the day
of the circumcision of Jesus Christ, on the 8th day after
his birth on the 25th of Dec, as the start of the New Year.
This may have been intended to knock out the
"Saturnarii" and a few other pagan festivities at
this time of the year.
In Sweden the king Gustaf Vasa (16th
century) proclaims Jan 1st as the start of the New Year.
The length of the year (365,25 days) of the Julian calendar
does not perfectly match the "tropical year" (the
"real" astronomic year). The difference is one
day in 128 years. In 1582 an improved calendar, the "Gregorian
calendar", is proclaimed by the pope
Gregorius the 13th. In that one the error is one day in
about 1500 years. This calendar was adopted in 1582 by the
catholic world but by the Lutheran countries at very
different times, e.g. N Germany, Denmark and Norway in
1700, England 1753, Japan 1873, China 1912, Russia 1918 and
Greece in 1923. Sweden adopted this new calendar in 1752.
Celebration of the "exact" turn of the year
requires a national common time. This was
proclaimed in Sweden in 1878 because the
railway time tables required a uniform time. So the
celebration of New Year's as we know it is only about 100
years old. The fireworks were added in the last 50 years
despite the fact that fireworks had been manufactured for
several hundred years (thousands in China ?).