The Meaning in England of the New Year


New year is not a particularly important festival in England. It is something what we celebrate largely because it happens so soon after Christmas and it can mark a useful end to the Christmas celebrations.

Another reason why New Year is not necessarily regarded as a great festival in England at least is that until 1752 the beginning of the English secular year was the 25th of March.

The calendar that we all use was commissioned by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C. He employed a group of Greek mathematicians to sort out the chaos into which the roman secular calendar had fallen, and they came up with a purely solar calendar of 365 days in the year with an extra day every four years to bring the calendar in line with the movements of the earth around the Sun.

There was, however, a mistake in the initial calendar to do with the falling of leap years on the 00 years and as the centuries went by the official secular calendar fell out of synchronization with the solar calendar. Until in the 16 century there was about eight days of difference. The astronomical calendar and the calendar that was used without relevant leap years.

Therefore,  Pope Gregory XIII commissioned a revision of the calendar and this was put into effect in 1582 and suddenly the first of September moved to eighth of September and the calendar was brought back into life with the astronomical facts.

Because England was a Protestant country and has broken away from Church of Rome we did not take any cognizance of this change of the calendar. So, we continued with the old calendar and also continued with the much older beginning of the year as the 25th of March until it became increasingly inconvenient.

Scotland had already adopted the new calendar and in 1707 England and Scotland became a single country with two calendars. The increasing commercial interchange between England and the other European countries meant that above by the middle of the 18th century the eleven day gap between the English calendar and Scottish and the main European calendar had become deeply inconvenient.

In 1752 Lord Chesterfield introduced a bill in the House of Lords changing the English calendar over to the new calendar. Therefore, in 1752 the 1st of September came in England and was immediately followed by the 11th of September, which brought our calendar into line with that used in most other parts of Western Europe.

I am told that the change of calendar was attended by rioting in London,.The mob ran around shouting: "give us back our eleven days!". They thought that the act of parliament had taken eleven days out of their lives. On the other hand they did have a point because all of the rent days and all of the days they paid the tax had not changed. And so, what they had was a shorter period, people had less rent for their money.

The year was brought into line with that elsewhere and that is how the 1st of January became the first day of the year in England. It was imposed on us by act of parliament in 1752.

The English state of course made sure that it didn't loose out through calendar change. The first day of the year, as far as the tax collecting authorities were concerned, remained the 25th of March. And if you adjust that to the new calendar changes you get the 6th of April which even today is the first day of the official financial year. In England your tax liabilities are reckoned as running from the 6th of April to the 5th of April, and so we still have not entirely moved our calendar for the year to begin on the 1st of January.

What I was trying to explain is that the 1st of January is not a very important festival in our national life. It was until 1752 nearly the 1st of January, it was not the first day of the year and, as soon as the calendar change was made, Christmas Day continued as the main Winter festival and became so important.