Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Eighth Day of Christmas =
First Day of New Year

The history of the calendar can be so confusing. Today, if you are following the Christmastide calendar, is the eighth day of Christmas. But it wasn't always New Year's Day. That used to fall on March 25, known as Lady Day.

That, however, was only if you were following the Julian calendar, which was the case in England up until Chesterfield's Act was passed in 1751—or 1750, if you were still clinging to the Julian calendar instead of embracing the new new of the Gregorian calendar. Thus, even the switch to the new, up-to-date and technologically correct calendar resulted in inadvertently turning March 25, Lady Day, into Old Lady Day because the calendar change cost us eleven days and meant that New Lady Day, in the new style calendar, now had to be noted on April 6.

See? Confusing. But that still leaves us in March. And we're supposed to be talking about January. That's a loss of another bunch of days. In fact, for every country's conversion to a calendar start on January 1, the previous year got cheated of its full glory. Depending on where your forebears lived at the time, you might have started celebrating New Year's Day on January 1 in 1556 (in Spain, Portugal, and Poland), in 1559 (in Sweden), at the dawn of a new century (1600 in Scotland), in 1700 (in Russia), or not until 1797 (in Venice). And lost a whole bunch of days in the year preceding the big switch.

Not only was that important for marking historic occurrences in European history, but it does invoke some grumbling and head-scratching among the more humble of us who have, nonetheless, managed to push back our personal family history brick-wall challenges to breach the gulf between the Old Style and New Style dating systems.

What's interesting is that the Eighth Day of Christmas—where we've emerged into January, no matter which calendar your ancestor might have been using—was designated as a feast day for the Virgin Mary. But the "Lady" in Lady Day also signified that very same Mary, only for a different feast day: the Feast of the Annunciation. So, whether your ancestors were celebrating the first day of the civil New Year on March 25 (or, ahem, April 6), or the start of the "historical year" on January first, somehow, they were still celebrating Mary.

Now, most people who celebrate New Year's Day likely have no idea of the complicated change of calendars, or even of the religious feast day set for this same time. Perhaps they reach back to a more distant history—at least in European traditions—to fashion their celebrations after the fires (or, now, more confined fireworks), noise-making, and wistful thoughts about the past year and bright hope (and maybe even some resolutions) for the new one.

Perhaps, if you are like me and have even a trace of Scottish blood in you, you might even have tidied up your genealogical books for the year, ready to launch into new research projects in 2019.

No matter what your preferred way of celebrating, here's to an encouraging year for all of us!


  1. This twelve days of Christmas is so much more complicated than I ever imagined!!!

    1. Perhaps that's because many of the designations reach back, far into the Middle Ages, a time in history that many of us aren't that familiar with. Not to mention, the Powers That Be often change what the previous administrations set up...(so what's new in the world?!)

  2. Happy new year, still enjoying your thoughts

    1. Thank you, Far Side. I hope you are having a relaxing New Year's Day!


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