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Opinion: History made a mistake with New Year’s Day

Is New Years Day really the beginning of a new year?
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The first day of spring is a much more attractive time to begin the year.

WESTERN PRODUCER — It’s hard to put another calendar on the wall without reflecting on the year that just was.

But before you begin dreading another rehash of COVID, drought, heat domes and senseless elections — relax, I’ve had enough of that, too.

Instead, here’s a question for you — why do we start the year when we do?

There’s nothing in nature that would make Jan. 1 the natural day to begin marking yet another year. So what’s behind this arbitrary decision?

Well, like a lot of the things we do here in the western world, it started with the Romans.

It had long been the practice of these efficient folk to date their years by the terms of their leaders, known as consuls, rather than organizing them sequentially.

Around 153 BC they began inaugurating their new consuls at the beginning of January, and soon they were marking the beginning of the new year on Jan. 1.

But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, for thousands of years civilizations started the new year in mid-March. This coincided with the vernal equinox, or the first day of spring.

The Babylonians began doing this 4,000 years ago, marking the beginning of another year with a spring festival.

The Romans also did this at first. They originally had a 10-month calendar that started on March 1.

This can still be seen in the names of the months September, October, November and December. Septem is Latin for seven, octo means eight, novem means nine and decem is 10. The months were named that way because in a 10-month calendar that begins March 1, September to December were the seventh to tenth months of the year.

The zodiac is also a throwback to this earlier time. It starts with the astrological sign Aries, which begins March 20.

But at some point the Romans shook things up, and New Year’s Day moved to Jan. 1.

That’s a shame because the first day of spring is a much more attractive time to begin the year. Mother Nature is waking up and another growing season is upon us. A multitude of possibilities present themselves, and the very air is alive with new beginnings

Instead, we wake up to long nights and short days, buried in snow.

Where’s the sense in that?