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New Year's Day

Event Date:
Tue 1st January 2013

New Year's Day is a public holiday in the United Kingdom on January 1 each year. It marks the start of the New Year in the Gregorian calendar. For many people have a quiet day on January 1, which marks the end of the Christmas break before they return to work. However, there are some special customs, particularly in Scotland.

What do people do?

On New Year's Eve (December 31), just before midnight, many people turn on a television to show pictures of one of the four clocks on the Clock Tower on the Palace of Westminster, or Houses of Parliament, in London counting down the last minutes of the old year. At midnight, as the New Year begins, the chimes of Big Ben, the bell inside the Clock Tower, are broadcast to mark the start of the New Year. Champagne or other sparkling wines are often served at this point.

Many people hold parties at home or go out to pubs or night clubs. These parties often continue into the early hours of the morning. Hence, for many people, New Year's Day is time for recovering from the excesses of the night before.  For others, it is the last day of the Christmas holiday before they return to work. Some take the opportunity to carry out home improvements or to go for a walk in the country. In many places around the United Kingdom's coast, groups of people dress up in fancy costumes and run into the cold sea.

Many people make New Year's resolutions. These are promises to themselves that they will lead a better life in some way in the coming year. Common New Year's resolutions include stopping smoking, losing weight, eating more healthily, getting more exercise or spending less money. Some types of resolution that would lead to a healthier lifestyle are supported by government advertising campaigns.

In some areas, there are a number of customs associated with New Year's Day. In Scotland many people sing the song 'Auld Lang Syne' at midnight as New Year's Day begins.  In Scotland and northern England, it is customary to go first footing. This is the first person to enter a house on January 1. There are many traditions and superstitions associated with first footing. A male first-footer brings good luck, but a female bad luck. In different areas there are different traditions about whether the first footer should have fair or dark hair, whether the person should bring coal, salt or other things and what food or drink that person should be served after arrival.

Public life

New Year's Day is a bank holiday. If January 1 is a Saturday or Sunday, the bank holiday falls on Monday, January 2 or 3. Nearly all schools, large businesses and organizations are closed. In some areas stores may be open, although this varies a lot. Public transport systems do not usually run on their normal timetables. In general, public life shuts down completely on New Year's Day.


Now the start of a new calendar year is marked in the winter on January 1. However, this was different in the past. From the earliest times in Europe, winter festivals have been held around or just after the winter solstice (December 21). These have now developed into the Christmas and New Year celebrations that are now held. However, before the present Gregorian calendar was adopted in England, in 1752, the Julian calendar was used. According to the Julian calendar, the administrative year began on March 25.

The Julian calendar was introduced in the Roman Empire 45 years before the birth of Christ. The average length of a year in this calendar was slightly shorter than the actual length of a solar year. For this reason, by the 1700s, the official dates of the winter, spring, summer and autumn equinoxes had moved about ten days from the days on which the actual equinoxes fell. This meant that a correction to the date had to be made, when England changed over to the Gregorian calendar. Hence, in 1752, Wednesday, September 2 was followed by Thursday, September 14.

This had important consequences for the tax, or fiscal, year. The British tax authorities and many landlords were unhappy about potentially "losing" 11 days worth of revenue. For this reason, the 1752-1753 tax year did not end on March 24 but April 4 and so still lasted for 365 days. Another correction was carried out in the calendar in 1800 and again the tax year was adjusted so that it still lasted for the full 365 days. Since then the tax year in the United Kingdom has stated on April 6. This tax year was also used in the Republic of Ireland until 2001, when the start of the tax year was moved to coincide with the start of the calendar year on January 1.


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