New Year's Day is the date when people celebrate the passing of the Old Year and the beginning of the New one.
When this actually occurs depends on what kind of calendar you use - and thus how long your year is. In modern times "international dating" uses the (solar) Gregorian Calender and this day falls on January 1, although alternative dates are celebrated, for example by the Eastern Orthodox Church, which also celebrates it on January 1, but uses the Julian Calender, so their January 1 falls on the Gregorian January 14. Historically, new year was celebrated at other times in other cultures - and some historical calendars (for example the Roman one) failed to accurately match the Earth's 365.25 day year and occasionally needed correcting with intercalary days meaning that New Year could jump around quite a lot.
Other cultures - for example Islam - follow a lunar calendar which counts off a year by cycles of the moon. This gives a 354 day year which, unsurprisingly, wanders around the solar calendar quite dramatically and means that, outside the tropics, New Year's day can move from season to season over a long period.
Also common is the compromise lunisolar calendar - of which the Chinese is probably the most famous - which follows the 365 day year but celebrates its turning based on a specific lunar cycle, thus placing the festival within a given band (Chinese New Year typically falling between late January and early February). This is also the principle behind the fixing of the Christian festival of Easter and the directly related Jewish festival of Passover (both of which have also been used as new year celebrations).
Some Middle Eastern cultures celebrate the New Year at the time of the Vernal Equinox, and the Hmong of Southeast Asia celebrate it in November. Presumably highly monarchist cultures which rely entirely on regnal years could celebrate the date of the current monarch's birthday or accession as a New Year festival.
In the United States, as well as in other places, much of the actual celebrating takes place the night before, on December 31, New Year's Eve; where parties cumulate with the transition from one year to the next at midnight. Probably the most famous one is the annual New Year's Eve party at Times Square in New York. New Year's Day is largely celebrated by sitting in front of the TV watching college football games.
Many countries celebrate the New Year with fireworks. In China, this was originally to scare away evil spirits.
At the time of the New Year, it is traditional to look back at the events of the previous year and to make "New Year's Resolutions"; personal goals of self-improvement.
Game and Story Use
- The festivities surrounding the New Year's celebration could make a good backdrop for an adventure
- The end of the old year and the beginning of the new one carries with it some strong symbolism; a villainous NPC might decide to time his Evil Plot to coincide with this.
- Making sure you know whose New Year is being referred to can be very important - especially if there are lots of calendars in play.
- Regnal year festivals are prime candidates for being formalised and placed on a specific date unrelated to the current monarch (for example, the British state celebrates the Monarch's birthday on the second Saturday of June, despite our sovereign lady Elizabeth actually having been born on 21st April).
- A given culture may also have separate types of year - the modern Western calendar year begins on 01 Jan XX, but (in the UK at least) the exchequer begins its taxation year around 04 Apr XX (a hangover from the pre-modern quarter days, which divided the year into three month segments between Christmas (25 Dec), Lady Day (25 Mar), Midsummer (24 Jun) and Michaelmas (29 Sep) and in which Lady Day was originally the New Year. All four quarter days were traditional days to begin contracts and pay rents).
- Noting that Lady day usually falls around the Spring Equinox and that the 06 Apr XX in the Gregorian calendar corresponds to 25 Mar in the older, Julian calendar.