New Year's Day 2020

When Does the New Decade Begin?

January 1, 2020
New Year's Day Clock

Happy New Year!! Ever wondered why the new year starts on January 1? Is 2020 the start of a new decade or the last year of the current decade? Read all about New Year’s Day and how we celebrate!

New Year’s Dates

Ready to celebrate New Year’s 2020? New Year’s Eve falls on Tuesday, December 31, 2019, and New Year’s Day falls on Wednesday, January 1, 2020

January 1 is a public holiday in the United States and Canada (as well as many countries around the world).

Year New Year’s Day
2020 Wednesday, January 1
2021 Friday, January 1
2022 Saturday, January 1

Is 2020 the Start of a New Decade?

First, what does the word “decade” mean?  Oxford Dictionary states, “a period of ten years, especially a period such as 1910–1919 or 1990–1999.” That’s it.

There is some debate about whether a “new decade” begins on January 1, 2020, or January 1, 2021. There are two common ways of counting decades: 

  1. One way groups years by starting from zero and going to 9. For example, the “1980s” refers to the period from 1980 to 1989. Or, the “1960s” refers to 1960 to 1969.
  2. Another more “technical” way counts decades starting with the first year 1 CE. (Note: The Gregorian calendar goes from 1 BCE to 1 CE; there is no year zero.)

When polled, most people say that the next decade will begin on January 1, 2020, and end on December 31, 2029.

Bottom line: Technically, 2021 is the start of the new decade based on the Gregorian calendar. Culturally, many people commonly think of as a decade (such as the 1980s, 1990s) as years ending in 0 to years ending in 9. So, 2010 to 2019; 2020 to 2029.

However you define a decade, let’s just celebrate the start of a new year and new beginnings!

Why January 1 Starts the New Year

January 1 starts the New Year according to today’s Gregorian calendar.

The idea of starting the New Year on January 1 began with the Romans. In about 153 BC, Roman consuls begin their year in office on January 1. (In the old Roman calendar, March was the first month). At about 45 BC, the Julian calendar of the Roman Empire was implemented, establishing January 1 as the new date of the new year.

The month of “January” is named for Janus, the ancient Roman god. Often depiced as having two faces—one looking forward and one looking back—Janus was the god of beginnings and endings, doors and gates, passageways and transitions.

In ancient Roman times, the gates of the temple of Janus were open in times of war and closed in times of peace. While Janus is linked to war, it was more as a way to protect and welcome returning warriors; at other times, he symbolizes peace. 

Janus am I; oldest of potentates;
Forward I look, and backward, and below
I count, as god of avenues and gates,
The years that through my portals come and go.

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet (1807–82)
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The winter solstice was thought to occur on December 25. So, the New Year started on the 1st of the next month, January. The Romans consecrated this day to Janus, exchanging good wishes and gift of sweet figs and honey in Janus’ honor. 

See how all 12 birthday months got their names.

In modern times, not all cultures follow the Gregorian calendar. The New Year in the Hindu, Chinese, Coptic, Jewish, Islamic calendars differ.

  • The Chinese New Year starts in January or early February. Read more about the 2020 Chinese New Year.
  • The Jewish New Year (based on a lunar calendar) is called Rosh Hashanah and usually in September.

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New Year’s Customs

A common custom on the first of the new year is to take time to reflect and make New Year’s resolutions. A fresh calendar encourages us to fill in the blanks with ambitious projects for home and personal improvement. Turn your face to the future with a few tips on how to make good New Year’s resolutions.

In Scotland, the custom of first-footing is an important part of the celebration of Hogmanay, or New Year’s Eve Day. This practice holds that the first foot to cross a threshold after midnight will predict the next year’s fortune. Today, there is a custom of visiting good friends and family after midnight on New Year’s Eve. See more New Year Traditions Around the World.

There are even some traditional New Year’s foods—many associated with good luck. One southern American recipe is Good Luck Hoppin’ John. A Scottish tradition is Hogmanay Shortbread.

Champagne and other holiday drink recipes are also served in celebration.

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Credit: Sam Jones/Quinn Brein

New Year’s Eve Customes

The evening before New Year’s Day—New Year’s Eve—is when most people celebrate the turning of the year! As the clock counts down, people may celebrate the last hours at a party or watch a televised countdown. When the clock strikes midnight, the custom is to exchange hugs and kisses and wish each other a “Happy New Year!”

Many people ring in the New Year by singing the Scottish song “Auld Lang Syne.” Robert Burns is credited with the two original stanzas, which most New Year revelers know (if that!):

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

Chorus.-For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne
.

New Year’s Quotes

To help you ring in the New Year or write a special New Year’s greeting, we present some more verse from our archives.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

–Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92)

Each age has deemed the new-born year
The fittest time for festal cheer.

–Sir Walter Scott

I hear you, blithe new year,
Ring out your laughter.

–Abba Goold Woolson

Hark! The Old Year is gone!
And the young New Year is coming!

–Bryan Waller Procter

Just listen to the merry New Year’s bells!
All hearts rejoice and catch the cheerful tone.

M. A. Baines

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Happy New Year to all of our Almanac readers! We hope your new year is “useful, with a pleasant degree of humor.”

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Reader Comments

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When Dose the New Year Start

I have always felt that the logical date for New Year's Day should be the day after the winter solstice. After all, that is the day that the days start getting longer and everything starts over.