The date of New Year’s Day seems so fundamental that it’s almost as though nature ordained it. But New Year’s Day is a civil event. Its date isn’t precisely fixed by any natural seasonal marker.
Our modern celebration of New Year’s Day stems from an ancient Roman custom, the feast of the Roman god Janus – god of doorways and beginnings. The name for the month of January also comes from Janus, who was depicted as having two faces. One face of Janus looked back into the past, and the other peered forward to the future.
For us in the Northern Hemisphere, early January is a logical time for new beginnings. At the December solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, we had the shortest day of the year. By early January, our days are obviously lengthening again. This return of longer hours of daylight had a profound effect on cultures that were tied to agricultural cycles. It has an emotional effect on people even in cities today.