Most of the world now marks the beginning of each new year as the first day of January. Although, like all of the other dates still held as new starts by a
number of cultures, it's really quite arbitrary from a cosmological point of view.
Looking at our planet from outside the solar system will reveal nothing particularly special about the earth's position in relation to the sun at midnight between Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. It's just one point - like any other - in the 365¼-day path that we take around Sol over and over again.
And although some may argue that
a lunar-based new year (like the Chinese New Year or the Vietnamese Tet, for instance, which shift between Jan. 20
and Feb. 20 each year) is at least set on a specified juxtaposition of earth, sun, and moon, that specification is still an entirely arbitrary human invention.
A new year based on the spring equinox - as once marked by many people historically, and still by some Hindu cultures - does have appeal, as the onset of spring matches nicely with the feelings of new beginnings engendered by thoughts of starting a new track around the sun. (Although the spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere coincides with the autumn equinox - and the subsequent slide towards winter - in the Southern Hemisphere.)
Arbitrary or not, it's the concept of a "new beginning" that undoubtedly gives rise to the joyful celebrations at the close of the old year, and to the resolutions for better habits that are attractive to so many.
Whether you have made ambitious resolutions for 2013 or are simply glad the old year is over and you have survived to see a new one begin - we raise our editorial glasses full of bubbly and wish everyone a safe and healthy 2013.