When New Year’s Was New — Plus: New Cards Coming for the Hacked!

In the spirit of the holidays, we’ve stayed away from some of our “hard news” offerings in this space, to report on more thematically consistent topics, like the history of Christmas gift-giving, or this week — a history of New Year’s itself.

For example, did you know that January wasn’t always the first month in the year? Originally, when the Romans had a lunar-based calendar, there were ten months in the year (hence, the roots of month-names like “September” when it was the 7th month, or “December” when it was the 10th!) And the new year came in March!

Julius Ceasar reformed the calendar, adding January and February (and then was promptly assassinated by the Senate, for his troubles!) January was named for “Janus,” the god of gates and threshold and such, and hence, is our gateway into the new year (though it took about 17 centuries before a January new year was officially adopted in England!)

As for other more recently-acquired traditions, New York didn’t have its “ball drop” until around 1908. New York Times publisher Alfred Ochs was trying to attract revelers into upper Manhattan with fireworks, in previous years, but the hot ashes created too many problems, so the NYPD banned the practice. Ochs then struck on the idea of borrowing a practice from the U.S. Naval Observatory, and dropping a ball, to mark the precise moment. Additionally, Ochs thought to combine it with the “newfangled” phenomenon of electricity, to make it bright and, well, firework-like.

Dick Clark and network specials would still be some decades into the future.

But not so far into the future is a little piece of news, after all. Of course, the infamous “Target card hack” happened over this same holiday period, and we will be following up on that, and its ramifications for American card security, in the new year.

For now, though, note that many people received “new cards for Christmas” in the words of Exchange Bank VP Brad Hunter. He doesn’t mean greeting cards — he’s referring to new credit and debit cards.

Many banks and credit unions, it turns out, are acting unilaterally, closing out old numbers and sending new cards to customers and members who happened to shop at Target during the offending period. This is being done without customers requesting them, and of course, has had an effect — given the timing — on card use for holiday travel and gift giving. And perhaps even on buying patterns for post-holiday sales!

Though for many banks, “customers may continue to use their old cards until they are deactivated in a few weeks,” according to one article on the subject, meaning that the closed accounts and rebooted cards will be coming sometime in late January, or in February — you know, closer to that original “new year” date!

On the merchant side, be aware that your customers may be wanting to buy from you, but could be caught in a “card transition” of their own, especially if their banks are replacing the cards on their own.

It could behoove you to make sure you customers have all their “non-card” options for  paying you — eChecks and the like — as back up!

But more on this in the new year! Janus the gatekeeper is waiting for you to step through to a happy 2014!


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