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Happy new year… as we know it today!


As 2018 gets underway, our author Geoffrey Davies offers a fascinating look at how the turn of the year has changed through the ages.

There was a recent controversy over the terms BC and AD (Before Christ and Anno Domini, meaning Year of the Lord). In the 19th century, some in Wales adopted a different dating system; the church in the village of Pontsiân in Ceredigion has a date stone showing 5858 OB, which stands for Oed Byd - Age of the World. The age of the world was calculated in the 17th century by Archbishop Ussher, who used the Bible as his source. According to this theory, the earth was created in 4004 BC - meaning that in 2018 the year is 6022 OB.

 Until 45 BC, the Romans used a different calendar, said to have been invented by Romulus. The year started on March 1 and consisted of 10 months, with 61 days in midwinter not assigned to any! This was amended with the addition of January (Ianuarius) and February (Februarius) by King Numa Pompilius around 700 BCE, an alternative to BC meaning Before Common Era. This left the year at 355 days and, as the calendar failed to synchronize with the seasons, an extra month was added in some years!

In 45 BC, Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar of 365 days, beginning on March 1. An extra day was added to February, initially every three years and then every four. The earth orbits the sun in 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds, so having a leap year every four years gradually allowed the calendar to avoid coinciding with the equinox. By 1582, the calendar was 10 days out with regards to equinoxes, and Pope Gregory XIII decreed that the Gregorian Calendar be adopted. This continued with the leap year every fourth year, but in years divisible by 100 there was no leap year (although if the year was divisible by 400, there was a leap year!).

In 1750, Parliament passed the Calendar (New Style) Act in 1750, although it was not until 1752 that Britain and her colonies adopted the Gregorian Calendar - which meant that September that year was just 19 days long! Historically, the legal year in Britain started on Lady Day, March 25, but the Act changed this to January 1. The change of date explains the anomaly of the end of the tax year being on April 5, which was 11 days after the end of tax year under the Julian Calendar.

The introduction of the Gregorian Calendar was not universally accepted in Britain and in the picturesque Gwaun Valley, five miles south-east of Fishguard in Pembrokeshire, New Year’s Day is celebrated on January 13 - the January 1 of the Julian Calendar! Hen Galan is celebrated at the Dyffryn Arms, Pontfaen, and the tradition of the Mari Llwyd - the parading of a horse’s head around the village on a pole and decorated with ribbons - continues to this day.


Geoffrey Davies retired to Wales following a career in investment management and marketing, where he became intrigued by the country’s beauty and wealth of half-forgotten history. His series of books for Sigma Press includes Pembrokeshire Villages, Carmarthenshire Villages and Denbighshire Villages.

Created On  10 Jan 2018 16:31  -  Permalink


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