This Thursday is the eve of the New Year or Hogmanay. But why does the year start in January?
Calendars used to be based on lunisolar time, following the natural cycles of both the Sun and the Moon.
The earliest recording of a New Year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, around 4000 years ago and was celebrated around the time of the spring equinox, in mid-March when the days start getting longer than the nights.
The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians began their new year with the autumn equinox when the nights start getting longer than the days.
The Greeks celebrated New Year on the winter solstice on the shortest day.
The Romans, on the other hand, started the year on March 1, but changed to January 1 about 150 BC as the day for inaugurating new consuls.
In 52 BC Julius Caesar created a new calendar (Julian calendar) with 365 days (with an extra day every four years) to match to the solar calendar.
In 567 the Council of Tours decided that the celebrations accompanying the New Year were considered pagan and unchristian so made March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, the beginning of the New Year.
William the Conqueror decreed that the year begin on January 1, but England later joined the rest of Christendom and adopted March 25 as New Year’s Day.
Unfortunately the solar year isn’t exactly 365¼ days so after about 1600 years the solar calendar and the Julian calendar were out of sync by 10 days.
The Gregorian calendar, adopted in 1582 by the Roman Catholic Church, removed 10 days from the calendar and made January 1 New Year’s Day, but it took until 1752 for England to follow suit.
So why does our tax year start in April?
Well, it dates back to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752.
Our calendar was 11 days out of sync but the Government didn’t want a short tax year so they added 11 days to the end of the year moving the beginning of the 1753 tax year from 25 March to April 5.
Then 1800 would have been a leap year under the Julian calendar system, but not the Gregorian one, so the Treasury treated 1800 as a leap year for purposes of taxation to get an extra day’s revenue. April 6 has remained the beginning of the tax year ever since.