The Slippery New Year

With the New Year soon to be upon us, it is worth thinking about the nature of calendars. Many are familiar with the switch from the Julian to Gregorian Calendars, which involves a modification of the leap year (and during the initial switch, a shift of a several days in the calendar). This didn’t happen simultaneously throughout the world though; some countries persisted far longer than others in the Julian system. While the American colonies switched in 1752, Russia did not change over to the Gregorian calendar until 1918. This is why, despite being titled Red October, the Bolshevik Revolution occurred in November for much of the rest of the globe.

But another change was made slowly throughout the world, and far later than many might realize: the date of the New Year. While France adopted January 1 as the beginning of the calendar in 1564, Britain did not change over until 1752 (although New Year’s Eve still seems to have been celebrated prior to this on December 31), and Thailand did not adopt this change until 1941! Prior to these changes, December 25, March 1, September 24, and other days were used to begin the calendar. Genealogists, or anyone else interested in history, take note (astronomers seem to have dealt with much of this already): the very makeup of years have not always been what they seem.