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The Very Old New Year

January 4th, 2011

Ancient Babylonian Calendar

Did you know that celebrating a “new year” is one of the oldest holidays in history?

The ancient Babylonians began the tradition of a New Year’s celebration over 4,000 years ago. However, there was something very different about the Babylonian New Year celebration. It began when the crescent moon appeared after the first day of spring, which is called the Vernal Equinox. This time of year was very special because spring is the season of new beginnings when farmers plant new crops.

You see, 4,000 years ago the Babylonian calendar was very different. People did not know that it takes Earth 365 ¼ days to revolve around the sun, so they depended a lot on observing phases of the moon to design their calendar. They also observed the sun, planets, and stars to help with their calendar. Unfortunately, different rulers kept changing the calendar and it became very out of sync with the sun.

Then, about 2,000 years ago, a famous Roman Emperor named Julius Caesar consulted with astronomers from Egypt. The astronomers told him that a year is 365¼ days long. So, Julius Caesar created the Julian Calendar and officially made the new year begin on January 1. But to coordinate the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year last 445 days. Wow! People must have been really happy when the next new year finally arrived!

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