The New Year Sucks Part One: An Arbitrary Date

Most of our calendars and time measurements are based off obvious natural phenomenon: the time it takes the Earth to rotate once is called a day while the month is roughly based off the moons orbital period (29.5 days). There are also some random time periods like the week having 7 days for some reason (from the “seven planets” apparently), there being 12 months, and a day having 24 hours, but the year is one of the obvious ones. The year is just the time it takes the Earth to revolve around the sun and serves as a pretty good value for a “long timescale”. The year also corresponds nicely to the Earth rotating about 365 times which makes perfect sense that the year has 365 days in it. Even if things do get silly by realizing you need to have orbited the sun 21 times before you can drink ethanol, and some movies require you to orbit the sun 17 times before you can see them, I don’t really see a better way to measure this arbitrary period of time outside of the Earth zipping once around the sun.

I suppose my gripe with the year is the random time where we choose to consider it “starting”: the New Year. Obviously the Earth’s orbit requires you to specify something as the start so we all can be on the same page with regards to dates and calendars and shit, but January 1st seems really damn arbitrary. Consider the fact that the Earth’s orbit already offers a few “special” points that would make better sense for the “start” of a new orbit, and hence a new year.

And we’re already familiar with them. We all know that the days are longer in the summer and shorter in the winter (confirming my northern hemisphere bias) and this is due to the Earth’s axial tilt. Since the time of day varies by season these orbital points would make perfect sense to consider as the  “start” of the a new year. There is a point where the Earth is most tilted towards the sun and we call this the summer solstice: the first day of summer. This is the longest day of the year for us northern hemisphere folks. There is an opposite point on the shortest day of the year called the winter solstice that serves as the first day of winter. From this point on the daytime length becomes longer. And in between these two days are the two equinoxes where day and night are of equal length: these serve as the first day of autumn and spring.

Earth's Orbit
I made a picture.

It would make sense to plop the new year on one of these important orbital locations and adds a sort of whimsical touch onto what a year really is. I really like the idea of starting the year on the winter solstice as it does seem like a new beginning with the days getting longer. The winter solstice is also around December 20th or 21st and would only make the official start of the year a week and a half earlier from the current which isn’t a big deal.

What adds another layer of frustration to this is the fact that our calendar was started by the Romans who were very aware of equinoxes and solstices. Hell, the Greeks before them knew that the Earth was round and loved science and math. Being the Romans and basically making the calendar, why not plop the new year on one of those dates? They didn’t and you can read about the detail by Googling it if you want.

year
From here. This is a chart of how long the days are at whatever latitude you live at. This chart also shows where the equinoxes and solstices occur and how they correspond to day length. And as you can see, January 1st is nothing special at all.

Obviously we will never “move” New Years. We are set in stone with our lame ass calendar. In our modern synchronized world it would be impossibly complex to move the start of the new year to another day even if it is close and “makes more sense”. It would involve a massive amount of adjusting and coordinating and would lead to quite a few headaches with regards to birthdays and anniversaries. Like I realize this is something that will never actually occur but it’d be nice having the new year on some remarkable point in the Earth’s orbit. January first doesn’t mean shit in the Earth’s orbit; it’s just some random ass point chosen to be the beginning of the year. This makes such an “important” date seem rather boring and unimportant. This helps play into another gripe I have with New Years: people are fucking stupid about it.

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