What if I told you that January was not always the first month of the year? That the ancient Romans used a different calendar system and their year began in March and ended in December? That traditionally, the original Roman Calendar consisted of 10 months totaling 304 days?
Then about 713 BC, Emperor Numa Pompilius, it is supposed, added the months of January and February, allowing the calendar to equal a standard lunar year which is 354 days. Although March was originally the first month in the old Roman Calendar, January became the first month of the calendar year about 450 BC (writers often differ about the time).
Naming the New Month
This new month was named January after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings. January was formed from the root words Janus and arius (meaning “pertaining to”). Hence January means “pertaining to Janus.”
Who was Janus?
Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and transitions, of gates, doors, doorways, passages and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past. This name was thus fitting for what became the first month of the year, which the Romans termed “the door to the year”
How We Got our Modern Calendar
In 1582, Pope Gregory adjusted the Julian Calendar – established in 45 BC, so most western nations began celebrating the start of the year on January 1. This new calendar became known as the “Gregorian calendar” which we have used to this day.
However, England and the American colonies continued to celebrate the new year on the date of the spring equinox, which is March 21 because Great Britain was a Protestant nation, as against the largely Catholic nations of Continental Europe. It was not until 1752 that the British and their colonies finally adopted the Gregorian calendar, by which time they were lagging by 11 days!
This will form the basis for a future article; how 6.5 million Britons went to bed on the night of September 2 1752, and woke up the next morning, dated September 14, 1752 – losing 11 days in just one night!