Happy New Year folks! This is the day on which our forebears used to celebrate the new year.
Until 1752 the new year in Britain and its colonies used to start on 25 March. This is not as strange as it sounds. The spring equinox is the time when the plants start to grow, the birds start to sing and the country emerges from the darkness of winter. It is no coincidence that the first sign of the zodiac is Aries, which starts on 21 March. Many cultures have celebrated the new year at the beginning of spring. The Iranians still do.
Britain finally came into line with the rest of Europe in 1752, when New Year’s Day was changed to 1 January. By this time our calendar was 11 days adrift of Europe’s Gregorian calendar so, after the adjustment, what used to be 25 March became 5 April.
Problem was, that messed up accounts and tax calculations, which were based on the old quarter-days and a year ending on 25 March. Those paying and collecting taxes, tithes and rents preferred to keep things as they were. As the passing of the Calendar Act had already caused some outrage the government decided that the last thing it needed were protests from unruly tradesmen and merchants. It decided to leave the taxation dates where they were.
Taxes would therefore still be paid on the old New Year’s Day. After an extra leap day was then added to the calendar in 1800, that became 6 April, leaving us with the tax year we have used ever since.
Perhaps today would be a good day for people to make some new year financial resolutions.