Communities that knew the secret of readily verifiable equinox and solstice marker days would start their new years on the vernal equinox, which was a very rational thing to do, since it could never go wrong when they added or took away a day as needed to keep the equinox on a fixed date.

When chart calendars came into vogue in late Egyptian times, the year was divided into 12 months, suggested by lunar cycles, "moonths" (get it?)

The 12 months were separated into four seasons, one hot season, centered on the summer solstice, two changeable seasons centered on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, and one cold season, centered on the winter solstice.

This 12-month, 4-season annual arrangement worked out neatly to six 30-day months alternating with six 31-day months, in a 30-31-30-31- et cetera sequence like we see in September through December.

They picked up the extra quarter day by adding a leap day every fourth year to one of the 30-day months. Since the equinoxes and solstices were four reliable markers the chart-calendar originators placed them on the first day of their assigned months, April, July, October, and January, but nature was not kind to their efforts to organize.

It turns out that 365 1/4 days is a tiny bit long for an astronomical solar year, so the equinox and solstice days would be seen to slip back, happening earlier and earlier in the years as their calendar grew older.

In fact, they would slip back one whole day every 128 years.

The vernal equinox, the most reliable marker, had been assigned to April first by the original calendar authors, but by the time of Julius Caesar it was happening about two weeks early, near the ides of March.

But New Year's Day was still April 1, which was a time of raucous joy and gift-giving. March was considered the "first month" because in Roman times it contained the actual visible vernal equinox.

We can see how the Romans numbered their months by the four months that have retained their Latin number names septem, octo, novem and decem being the seventh, eighth, ninth, and 10th months after the first month, March.

Here's where awesome authority was exercised by two powerful men, the Caesars, Julius and Augustus. Their efforts to stabilize the calendar are commendable, and their self-aggrandizement is legendary. The imperial names July and August assured their memory far into the future.

Julius honored his favorite god, Janus, by declaring the first day of January to be New Year's Day. He also changed the solstice/equinox days from midseason to become season boundaries, thus creating a six-week seasonal delay by the stroke of a quill on parchment.

Augustus in his "august" majesty had to declare a couple of 31-day months back to back by shifting the sequence and letting February take the hit.

The outlanders in the Roman Empire, European "barbarians," living by thousands of years of tradition, didn't follow the machinations from Rome, so they refused to accept the Roman New Year or the Roman seasons that were useless to farmers. "Winter is not a time for planting." They stayed with their old reliable April first New Year, and their old centered seasons, until Pope Gregory, spiritual emperor of nearly all the Christians reset the calendar on his own awesome authority in 1582 to fix the vernal equinox permanently on the date March 21 to match its date at the time of Constantine's Council of Nicea that had founded and codified Christianity.

The pope's new calendar added some tiny details like the one we all felt on Feb. 29 in the year 2000, which was the only centennial Feb. 29 since the year 1600, the other three having no leap year.

That tiny tweak gives us several thousand more years of smooth sailing without slippage of our astronomical events.

Almost incidentally, he declared the Roman seasons to be henceforth the official seasons world-wide, and so they are to this day, where all four seasons start six weeks late.

But Gregory like Julius Caesar before him had a serious problem of massive public denial that was backed by millennia of tradition.

The Roman "late seasons" got lip service whenever and wherever Christianity took over the culture. But for those outside the church, a clever marketing scheme was launched. It was called in Latin "pro-paganda," meaning "for unwashed peasants."

It was a campaign of derisive laughter to be launched at people who didn't get with the new program.

The campaign focused derision on the ancient New Year tradition by encouraging fake gifts like empty boxes, lying jokes, and fake parties where nobody shows, and hoots of belly laughs accompanied by deranged shouts of "April Fool."

Tucsonan Peter Vokac says that "the material in this historical essay is a result of a lifetime of reading."

He adds:

"The topics I have spent the most time on are archeology, history and astronomy. My early career was in Astronomy at Kitt Peak National Observatory.

"Much of the historical data on who did what and when had to be in the form of logical deductions from related material since there seem to be no specific details available on the calendars of Egyptians and Romans who were 1,500 years apart. Google is of little avail on ancient calendars.

"Romans had the same sun/sky relation as we do now, if we allow for a harmless shift of one astrological sign in the 2,000 years since. Historical data has to be evaluated for overall plausibility based on the science available to us now.

"Much of the original material is in the nature of clues that enable the whole story to be logically assembled in the manner of Sherlock Holmes. 

"Wide reading is the recommended procedure for aspiring historical sleuths."