From the 7th until around the 13th century, the year was reckoned as beginning at Christmas. In the 12th century, however, the Anglican church took a more seminal approach, worked back one human gestation period from 25 December, and arrived at 25 March as the Feast of the Annunciation, or Lady Day, as the true beginning of the year.
By the 14th century, 25 March had been generally adopted as the first day of the civil or legal year. Until 1752, this coexisted with the concept of the historical year, which began on 1 January, so dates in the early months were frequently given in the form 24 March 1694/5, with the final fraction digit showing both legal and historical year.
The January/March problem dated back to Roman days, where the original calendar, supposedly drawn up by Romulus, ran from March to December with January and February ignored. From 222BC, the year ran from March, when the new consul took office, but in 153BC New Year's Day was changed to 1 January.
Other calendars, notably the Kurdish and Zoroastrian, begin the year at the Vernal Equinox on 21 or 22 March, while the Muslim year runs from 16 July (when Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina in 622), and the Portuguese, until around 1430 at any rate, began their year on the anniversary of the battle of Actium.
Anyway, if you've got this far, happy new year!
A topical numerical teaser.
If BONKER plus BANKER equals RESIGN and each separate letter represents a different digit from 0 to 9, what is the value of RESIGN?
We have three copies of the Chambers Encyclopedic Dictionary for correct answers opened on 5 April. Entries to: Pastimes, the Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL.
Competition report: 10 March
The anagrams were as follows:
Gone brainless - Leeson, Barings
La! Rash Manager - Graham, Arsenal!
Love-bird wrecks opera - Parker-Bowles, Divorce.
Labour cure fails - Blair, Clause Four
Anti-EC so cruel to PM - Lamont, Euro-sceptic. Prizes to: Kate Young (Chiswick), Richard Rowntree (Frodsham), Judy Weyman (York).