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Happy New Year! Ever wondered why January starts the new year? Find out all about New Year’s Day, popular customs, and how we celebrate the beginning of a new year in the United States and Canada.
Celebrating the New Year
It’s safe to say that we’re all ready to celebrate the start of a new year. This time around, New Year’s Eve is Sunday, December 31, 2023, and New Year’s Day isMonday, January 1, 2024. We look forward to watching the grand fireworks displays that will mark the start of 2024—hopefully, a better year for all!
What Day Is New Year’s?
January 1 is a federal holiday in the United States and Canada (as well as many countries worldwide). The general population has a day off, and schools and most businesses are closed.
January 1 starts the New Year according to the Gregorian calendar, which is the calendar in use today. In 45 B.C., New Year’s Day was celebrated on January 1 for the first time in history when the Julian calendar took effect (thanks to Julius Caesar’s reforms). Today’s Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII to correct some slight inaccuracies but continues to start the year in January.
The month of “January” is named for Janus, the ancient Roman god. Often depicted 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)
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.
The Jewish New Year (based on a lunar calendar) is called Rosh Hashanah and usually takes place in September.
The Islamic New Year, also known as the First of Muharram, is usually observed in July or August and is based on the sighting of the thin crescent Moon.
New Year’s Eve Customs
The evening before New Year’s Day—New Year’s Eve—is when most people celebrate the turning of the year! People may celebrate the last hours at a party or watch a televised countdown as the clock counts down. When the clock strikes midnight, the custom is to exchange hugs and kisses and wish each other a “Happy New Year!”
In Scotland, the custom of first-footing is an important part of celebrating 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.
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 Day Customs
A common custom on the first of the new year is to reflect and make New Year’s resolutions. A fresh calendar encourages us to fill in the blanks with ambitious home and personal improvement projects. Turn your face to the future with a few tips on how to make good New Year’s resolutions.