Who remembers Lincoln Chaffee? Of course you don’t.
Chaffee, the former governor of Rhode Island, ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2015. His campaign lasted about 10 minutes because he was running on a single issue: converting the U.S. to the metric system. That’s what we in the South call a long road to a small house. Besides, anything that changes the distance of home plate to first base from 90 feet to 27.432 meters is a non-starter. No wonder “MAGA” beat out “MAMA” (Make America Metric Already).
Don’t misunderstand. Americans like change. There just has to be a good reason for it.
Here’s a change we can all embrace, one I think everyone will agree with if you just hang with me for a minute. Let’s move New Year’s Day to March 25, back to where it was before 1752.
That’s right. It was the British Parliament that changed New Year’s Day from March 25 to January 1 with the passage of the British Calendar Act of 1751. We were still a colony back then, so it applied to America as well.
How we made the change from March to January requires a very brief history lesson (sorry!).
For centuries, we measured the passage of days with the Julian Calendar, developed by mathematicians during the reign of Julius Caesar. The actual start of the new year under the Julian Calendar floated around for a few centuries, but it was always pegged to the day that Roman officials, or consuls, took office. Eventually that day became fixed as January 1, which became New Year’s Day.
Then in the Middle Ages, we began to drift. English Christians thought January 1 had no religious significance, so for about five centuries December 25 was regarded as the start of the new year. It reverted to January for a while, but in 1155 the church rose again and March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, was recognized as the start of the new year in England. But other parts of the empire, such as Scotland, still recognized January 1, which caused all sorts of problems dating deeds and other legal agreements. Parliament relented and in 1751 passed the Calendar Act, which set January 1 as New Year’s Day. And here we are today.
So why change New Year’s Day to March 25?
Look, we’ve been though hell and back in 2020. We’ve lost blood and treasure because of this pandemic. We’ve had our patience tested every day. We’ve actually feared for our lives and those of our loved ones. We’ve made sacrifices large and small.
And now the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter. We’re not quite through the tunnel yet, but we can see the end. It may not be time to spike the ball and yet I think we all feel like we can start to breathe a little easier, literally and figuratively.
This great lifting, our collective return to normalcy, comes at an appropriate time. The spring equinox is on March 20. The days are getting warmer and lighter. As the Grateful Dead sang, “The fish are rising like birds.” Or as the great American poet William Carlos Williams said in “Spring and All,” with a little more erudition than the Dead:
They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—
Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken
I think we all feel like that: a little shaken, a little uncertain, but ready to drop our shackles and meet each other face to face. Or, in the immortal words of Jeff Spicoli, “Hey bud, let’s party!”
So for one year, in 2021, let’s recognize our historical roots and declare March 25 New Year’s Day. Pop a bottle, host a dinner, hug a friend, play the music a little loud. We’ve earned it. Use all the necessary precautions, but celebrate. Plus, March 25 falls on a Thursday this year, so we can take Friday off and turn it into a four-day weekend.
Give me some watermelon sugar! Let’s party like it’s 1999.