Colonial New Year's Day


In the southern American colonies Annunciation day on March 25 was observed from the earliest times.  In those times this day also marked the beginning of the New Year, the birthday of the world.  The beautifully-worded Annunciation readings of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer were used at the little log church at Jamestown, Virginia where Pocahontas and her husband John Rolfe worshipped. The Annunciation service of the Book of Common Prayer was also observed at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia where George Washington worshipped.

In Maryland the day of the Annunciation  was observed with particular attention.  For it was on that day in 1634 that  English settlers first landed on the Maryland  shores.  Father Andrew White  celebrated the Mass of the Annunciation in sonorous and majestic Latin on the day of their landing.  Indeed this Annunciation Mass was the first Catholic Mass said in the New World by an English priest. In the state of Maryland March 25 is a legal holiday called "Maryland Day."

The very first Catholic Annunciation Masses in the New World, however, were celebrated by French and Spanish priests. The Mass of the Annunciation was celebrated in colonial French settlements such as Detroit, New Orleans, and Saint Louis as well as in Spanish settlements such as Saint Augustine and Santa Fe and in in many other locations in South and Central America and in Canada.  Until 1582 the Spanish and the French, too, began their calendars on the Annunciation.

The Pilgrims and Puritans of New England observed neither the Annunciation nor Christmas, but even they began their calendars and almanacs on March 25 and noted in their diaries on that day that it was "New Year's day." Thus up until 1754 New Year's day was observed on March 25 throughout the English-speaking colonies.