Friday, December 30, 2011

Fun Friday Facts #22: New Year's Edition

2012 is almost here, and I know you'll all need something to drunkenly discuss at your parties tomorrow night. Without further delay, here are your Fun Friday New Year's Facts:

1) Like Christmas, New Year's is one of the oldest continuously celebrated holidays in the world. The practice of ringing in a new year dates back at least as far as ancient Babylon, about 4,000 years ago. The Babylonians also invented the New Year's Resolution. They believed that vowing to return borrowed items to their rightful owners, pay off debts and other good stuff would bring them good luck in the year to come.

Actually doing it helps, too, you know.

2) Even today, various cultures around the world celebrate the New Year on different days. The Chinese New Year, for instance, occurs on the first day of the lunar calendar and can be on a different day each year, though it's usually sometime between 20 January and 20 February. Many Muslims also celebrate the New Year on the first day of the lunar calendar. The Iranian New Year typically occurs on the date of the spring equinox, usually 21 March. In Korea, they celebrate both the Gregorian calendar New Year on 1 January, and the lunar calendar New Year, because they know a good thing when they see it.

3) In the West, people have celebrated New Year's Day on 1 January since the time of Julius Caesar. The original Roman calendar, with its 304 days split up into ten months, wasn't accurate, for some reason, so Julius Caesar rectified this by establishing the Julian calendar in 46 BC. This calendar, like the Gregorian calendar we use today, had 365 days, 12 months, and a leap year every four years. The months were all the same lengths and most of them had the same name.

4) Even though Julius Caesar commissioned some of the best scientific minds in Rome to create this new calendar of his, it was still kinda f*cked up. That is, it missed eleven minutes per year. These eleven lost minuted added up, so that, about four centuries later, it was noticed that the calendar was three days too short.

This had the effect of pushing the date of the spring equinox forward a little every few hundred years, so that by the late 16th century AD, the spring equinox was occurring on 11 March, and not on 21 March, where it damn well belonged. It wasn't just spring happening too soon, it was Easter happening too soon, as well. If this had been allowed to go on, Easter could be happening before itself, by now.

And then all hell would break loose. ~ I

Pope Gregory XIII rectified this awful situation by establishing the Gregorian calendar, which most of the world still uses today. It drops three leap years every four centuries, and no one ever notices, because we can't keep track of them anyway.

5) Many people believe that the tradition of celebrating the New Year with food, drink and smooching originated with pagan customs. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church denounced New Year's celebrations, insisting that it was sinful to exchange gifts, get drunk, leave out food for the elves, or any of the other New Year's traditions that flourished in medieval European culture. People kept doing their thing anyway, as people will do, and the Church eventually saw that it wasn't gonna win this one. It established a new religious feast day, the Feast of the Circumcision, on 1 January, since that is the day when, by Jewish custom, baby Jesus would have been circumcised. This may have made it okay for Christians to celebrate the New Year, but I still don't think it's necessary to commemorate the trimming of the holy weiner.

Oh man, look at the expression on Mary's face. Get that woman a drink.