Minor British Institutions: New Year's Day

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The Independent Online

Apologies if your head, like mine, is feeling a little tender, but New Year's Day is a slightly complex Minor British Institution. Anciently, the New Year began with the Spring equinox in March (which explains September, the seventh month, October, the eighth, etc).

Various reforms favoured January (after Janus, the god who looks both ways), including the now dominant Gregorian calendar, introduced in 1582. England and Wales, sniffing a dastardly papist plot, stuck with March until 1752. The Scots, who have always been very keen, switched in 1600. And they get an extra day off to get over it.

Superstitions are generally to do with avoiding 12 months of trouble. If the first person across your threshold this morning wasn't a dark-haired man, bad luck.

Ernie Wise made the first mobile phone call in Britain on this day in 1985; his words are lost, but were not "I'm on the train".

Many will resolve, again, to give up drink. Pliny the Elder's hangover cure was two raw owl eggs.

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