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Why do we say Happy New Year/Happy New Year's on January 1st??

Posted on by Kieran McGovern

A more complex question that it first appears. January was first declared the beginning of the year by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE to celebrate the God of Janus - whose two faces looked back into the past and forward into the future. Like many Pagan holidays (e.g. Christmas/Midwinter Festival) it slowly became incorporated into the Christian calendar, though from a Christian perspective the 12th Day of Christmas (January 6) might be the more logical transformation point from old into new. Throughout the medieval period there was sporadic resistance to what was generally thought to be an alien, pagan anniversary

A desire to standardise calendars eventually drove the assimilation of the NYD as the official beginning of the year. In 1066 William the Conqueror  declared that January 1st a holiday and in the same 'I'll show you who's boss' spirit Pope Gregory XIII used the 1578 New Year's Day celebration to  decree 
that all Roman Jews, under pain of death, must listen attentively to the compulsory Catholic conversion sermon given in Roman synagogues after Friday night services. 
In 1582 Gregory confirmed that January 1st should be celebrated but the Protestant societies of northern Europe stuck doggedly to a March 1st  start date until the late Eighteenth Century.

So an artificially imposed holiday, often used as a pretext for spot of forced religious conversion.

Happy New Year!