The Start of the Calendar Year

The Romans took the start of the year to be January 1, just as we do. In examining other documents, however, particularly medieval ones, we need to be aware that such was not always the case. In the Byzantine empire, September 1 was the beginning of the new year. In the West, January 1 persisted, but alongside of that you also find year the beginning on December 25, March 25, or even Easter. Most of the early Western reluctance to use January 1 as the year's beginning stemmed from Christian disapproval of the traditional pagan ceremonies held on January 1. It is commonly thought that the institution of the Feast of the Circumcision was at least partly intended to give people a Christian holiday to celebrate on the first of January. Curiously, the calendars and tables the Church used to calculate Easter generally began in January, a tradition stretching back to antiquity. Eventually, January 1 regained its predominance in most of Europe. England persisted in using March 25 as the official new year until adopting the Gregorian calendar in 1752. Hence, a January-March 24 date will be look like it's a year before. That is, the day after, March 24, 1715 in Britain is March 25, 1716. Many private individuals in England, however, persist in calling January 1 the New Year (see, for example, Pepys's diaries).