Friday, 2 January 2009

New Year's Daze

This post is dedicated to my Dad, Roy, who passed away on New Year's Day. He was a true 'Silver Surfer', having developed a keen interest in computers late in life. He enjoyed reading this and other blogs. Dad, this one's for you.

It’s traditional to wish each other a happy new year on the 1st of January. However, this was not always the case. But before we embark upon a whistle stop tour of this curious and interesting topic, can I advise you to lay off the Cherry B and Crème de Menthe for the time being? Even sober, the subject started to give me a head ache, and I determined to keep it simple enough for me to understand. Anyway, here goes…

The ancient Romans celebrated the 1st of January as New Year’s Day, and the day was held as a festival to a greater or lesser extent in the years following the fall of the Empire. However, up to 1752, Christian countries regarded the 25th of March as New Year’s Day, and it was on this day that the year advanced. Thus (for example), the 24th March 1625 was followed by the 25th of March 1626. As you might have guessed, religion had a hand in this rather curious situation. The 25th of March was, by tradition, the date of the annunciation, when the angel is said to have informed Mary of her pregnancy (with Christmas falling exactly nine months later, you will note - would that all babies were that punctual!). Now, the church counted ‘Anno Domini’ (The Year of Our Lord) from the conception of Jesus, not from the date of his birth, and it is for this reason that the 25th of March came to be regarded as the start of the year. The day was colloquially known as Lady Day, and was one of the four quarter days; in other words, a day upon which rents fell due and contracts started or ended. It also marked the start of both the legal and the tax year.

Things poodled along happily for years, but then got a bit complicated in 1751, when England decided to replace the Julian calendar with the Gregorian one. Most other countries had already done this in 1582 (although Russia and Serbia waited until 1918 to adopt the Gregorian system). The reasons advanced for this were that the Julian system was:

…attended with divers inconveniences, not only as it differs from the usage of neighbouring nations, but also from the legal method of computation in Scotland, and from the common usage throughout the whole kingdom, and thereby frequent mistakes are occasioned in the dates of deeds and other writings, and disputes arise therefrom.

Under the Calendar (New Style) Act of 1750, the 1st of January, not the 25th of March, was deemed to be New Year’s Day. The changes were implemented in 1751/2, with the result that 1751 was a short year of only 282 days, running from the 25th of March to the 31st of December, and 1752 began on the 1st of January.

But the changes didn’t end there. Oh no. The old Julian calendar (created by Julius Caesar) had too many ‘leap days’, which meant that, over many years, the calendar was out of kilter with the solar year (the time taken by the earth to complete a single orbit of the sun). This caused problems for the church, because it used the vernal equinox to calculate the date of the moveable feast of Easter. The inaccuracy of the Julian calendar meant that vernal equinox (when day and night are of equal length) could not be guaranteed to fall upon the 21st March. The simple solution the government came up with was to advance the calendar by eleven days. So, if you had been around in 1752, and had gone to bed on the 2nd September, you might have been surprised, on waking the next day, to be told that it was now the 14th of September. It’s alleged that this action caused mass panic amongst the great British public, with demonstrations and the waving of banners declaring ‘Give us back our eleven days!’. There is no real evidence for this, but it's a good story, nevertheless!

So everyone accepted the change from the 25th March to the 1st of January, did they? Not a bit of it. The taxation authorities wanted to keep the March date as the start of the tax year, but were worried that the eleven days removed from the calendar would mean that they were able to collect eleven days’ less tax. So, they simply stuck them back in after the 25th March, so that the tax year for 1752 started instead on the 6th of April. There it remains to this day, a relic of changes to our calendar over two and a half centuries ago, and a reminder that, even then, the Government wasted no opportunity to screw every penny out of the populace.

I think I’ll stop before I get too political! May I wish you all a Happy New Year.

20 comments:

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I think, to avoid getting a headache, I'll just celebrate every day ... or would that give an even worse headache?

Vodka Mom said...

Happy, happy new year.

chris hale said...

Raph - Probably a good idea to celebrate every day...but you'd need to find a reasonable excuse in case someone asks!

VM - Thank you; and a happy new year to you too.

SIMONCOLGANPHOTOGRAPHY said...

A happy new year to you Chris, and all who live in your haunted hat !!!

chris hale said...

Thanks Simon; the same to you and family!

willow said...

My personal new year starts in October! Interesting post, Chris, as always.

Happy New Year to you and yours, dear bloggy friend.

chris hale said...

Thank you, Willow. I really appreciate your good wishes at this time.

Rob (Inukshuk Adventure) said...

As is your way, an entertainingly written and informative post. The 6th April always seemed an odd date for the tax year, now it's a quaint date. Also, it's Mum's birthday!

chris hale said...

Ah! An early Happy Birthday wish to Rob's Mum, then!

Comedy Goddess said...

Wait a minute. There should be more time, less taxes? Or less time more taxes? Too much for my poor little brain today.

joshua said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Deborah

Term Life Insurance

Comedy Goddess said...

PS
I have something for you on my blog! Hurry!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Chris - I was so sorry to hear about Roy's passing. He was a truly fascinating chap and a lovely man who connected me with many of the friends and colleagues I now have. I hope that in future blogs you will share some of the fantastic, amazing, hilarious stories involving your dad and his extraordinary career. They deserve to fill a book all of their own. Let's hope that 2009 proves to be a year for you and the family that Roy would take great joy from. x

Derrick said...

Hi Chris,

I send warmest New Year wishes to you and your family - and my condolences too.

Your date information is fascinating, as ever. I believe that we also used to calculate the year from the start of the monarch's reign. So, what with churchmen using their own calendar etc. etc. one could be forgiven for wondering what day is was!! And, of course, it remains today with the muslim and judaic calendars following very different schedules.

Congratulations too on being a fellow recipient of CG's award!

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Chris - my condolences too; I had mistakenly assumed your loss of your father was on a previous New Year's Day. You are in my thoughts.

Madame DeFarge said...

Chris, I realise that I know practically nothing about you in real life and thus anything I say may sound trite, but I am sorry for your loss.

I have never recovered from not having the 2nd of January off as a privilege day on moving down to this uncivilised place. I should claim it as my cultural heritage.

Btw, the word verification is thelingo. Suits us both , I think.

chris hale said...

Dear friends, thank you all for your good wishes.

CG - Give me a few days and I'll come up with the goods!

Joshua - Thanks; do drop in whenever you fancy.

Stevyn - Thanks for your kind words. I might just use this blog to record some of the more amusing incidents from the world of taxidermy!

Derrick - You are most kind. This calendar thing is a problem, but most of the time I don't know what day it is anyway!

MDF - Thank you so much. I think you're right about January the 2nd. Is there a special name for it? Never Again Day, perhaps?

justsomethoughts... said...

fantastic and informative. perhaps you should have been my high school teacher.

chris hale said...

JST - Hi! Maybe I was, but just can't remember...

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