Why Do We Start the New Year in the Cold?

Ovid, Fasti 149-165

“Come on! Tell me why the new year begins in the cold
When it would be better to begin in the springtime.
That’s when everything blooms, when time renews,
And new life stretches out from the vine’s bud,
When the trees are clothed again in new leaves
And grain just starts to sprout from its seed in the ground.

Then birds warm the air’s chill with their songs
While flocks play and made life in the fields.
Then the suns rise kind and the traveling swallow
Alights to build her nest under the barn’s high beam.
Then the field gives way to the plow and finds life again–
This should have rightly been called the New Year.”

I pressed him much about this. And he did not delay
But answered  with two verses in his own way:
“In winter the newest sun rises into the oldest one’s wane
And so Apollo and the year make their start the same.”

“dic, age, frigoribus quare novus incipit annus,
qui melius per ver incipiendus erat?
omnia tunc florent, tunc est nova temporis aetas,
et nova de gravido palmite gemma tumet,
et modo formatis operitur frondibus arbor,
prodit et in summum seminis herba solum,
et tepidum volucres concentibus aera mulcent,
ludit et in pratis luxuriatque pecus.
tum blandi soles, ignotaque prodit hirundo
et luteum celsa sub trabe figit opus:
tum patitur cultus ager et renovatur aratro.
haec anni novitas iure vocanda fuit.”
quaesieram multis: non multis ille moratus
contulit in versus sic sua verba duos:
“bruma novi prima est veterisque novissima solis:
principium capiunt Phoebus et annus idem.”

Jacob Philipp Hackert, “Fireworks over Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome”

Bisextile? Yes, It’s a Leap Day

Augustine, The City of God 15.12

“Six multiplied by six, which makes the square of six, adds up to thirty-six days. When this is multiplied by ten, this makes three hundred and sixty days, which gives us our twelve lunar months. The solar year requires five more days and one quarter day to be completed, and this is why an additional say they call the bissextus is added every fourth year. So, additional days were added by ancient authorities to make the days align with the years. The Romans called these days intercalary.”

Sexiens autem seni, qui numerus quadratum senarium facit, triginta sex dies sunt, qui multiplicati deciens ad trecentos sexaginta perveniunt, id est duodecim menses lunares. Propter quinque dies enim reliquos quibus solaris annus impletur et diei quadrantem, propter quem quater ductum eo anno quo bissextum vocant unus dies adicitur, addebantur a veteribus postea dies ut occurreret numerus annorum, quos dies Romani intercalares vocabant.

Bissextus [or bissextile, bisextilis] was the name given in the Julian calendar because the day was added on the 24th of February in leap years as ante diem sextum Kalendas Martias or (a.d. vi Kal. Mart.), the twice-sixth day before the Kalends of March. Romans added time at the end of February because of a ritual accord following the winter solstice. Prior to the Julian calendar, when the year was set at 355 days, there could be an entire leap month added. According to our records, the calculations were so off in 45 BCE that Julius Caesar imposed 67 additional intercalary days.

Image result for medieval manuscript clock
From Oxford, Bodleian Library, Digby 46 [borrowed from Erik Kwakkel’s Tumblr post]