THE HISTORY OF
New Years is certainly the oldest holiday that we celebrate. It was observed in Ancient Babylon about 4000 years before the birth of Christ. Around 2000 BC, the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon after the first day of spring (the Vernal Equinox).
Of course, it was logical to start the new year in spring, a time of rebirth, of planting new crops. Today’s new year being celebrated on January 1st has no astronomical or agricultural significance. It is simply the first day of the calendar year.
The Romans continued to observe the new year in late March around springtime. But the calendar was constantly being changed and the time varied. To set the record straight, the Roman senate, in 153 BC, declared January 1st to be the beginning of the new year. However, just a hundred years later in 46 BC, Julius Caesar created what we know as the Julian Calendar and while January 1st continued to be the date, it was on a different date. In order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, that year lasted for 445 days.
Although Romans in the first centuries celebrated the new year, the early Church condemned it as paganism. The church, as with the other holidays, established Christian celebrations on the same day as pagan celebrations. At that time, New Years was observed on the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision. Today, it is the Feast of Mary Mother of God.
Because of the Church’s opposition to celebrating New Years, western nations have celebrated this day for only about 400 years.
Great Britain and its colonies in America adopted the Gregorian calender in 1752, in which January 1st was restored as New Year's Day. Ways of celebrating differ as well, according to customs and religions of the world. People in Moslem societies, for example, celebrate the new year by wearing new clothes. Southeast Asians release birds and turtles to assure themselves good luck in the twelve months ahead. Jewish people consider the day holy, and hold a religious ceremony at a meal with special foods. Hindus of India leave shrines next to their beds, so they can see beautiful objects at the start of the new year. Japanese prepare rice cakes at a social event the week before the new year.
In the United States, the federal holiday is January first, but Americans begin celebrating on December 31. Sometimes people have masquerade balls, where guests dress up in costumes and cover their faces with masks. According to an old tradition, guests unmask at midnight.
At New Year's Eve parties across the United States on December 31, many guests watch television as part of the festivities. Most of the television channels show Times Square in the heart of New York City. At one minute before midnight, a lighted ball drops slowly from the top to the bottom of a pole on one of the buildings. People count down at the same time as the ball drops. When it reaches the bottom, the new year sign is lighted. People hug and kiss, and wish each other "Happy New Year!"
On January first, Americans visit friends, relatives and neighbors. There is plenty to eat and drink when you just drop in to wish your loved ones and friends the best for the year ahead. Many families and friends watch television together enjoying the Tournament of Roses parade preceding the Rose Bowl football game in Pasadena California. The parade was started in 1887, when a zoologist who had seen one in France suggested to the Valley Hunt Club in Pasadena, California that they sponsor "an artistic celebration of the ripening of the oranges" at the beginning of the year. At first the parade was a line of decorated horse-drawn private carriages. Athletic events were held in the afternoon, and in the evening, a ball where winners of the events of the day and the most beautiful float were announced. In later years colleges began to compete in football games on New Year's Day, and these gradually replaced other athletic competitions. The parade of floats grew longer from year to year, and flower decorations grew more elaborate.
The theme of the Tournament of Roses varies from year to year. Today the parade is usually more than five miles long with thousands of participants in the marching bands and on the floats. City officials ride in the cars pulling the floats. A celebrity is chosen to be the grand marshal, or official master of ceremonies. The queen of the tournament rides on a special float which is always the most elaborate one of the parade, being made from more than 250,000 flowers. Spectators and participants alike enjoy the pageantry associated with the occasion. Preparation for next year's Tournament of Roses begins on January 2.
In the warmer regions all around the country there are other games whose names are characteristic of the state. People watch the Orange Bowl game in Florida, the Cotton Bowl in Texas, and the Sugar Bowl in Louisiana. In most cultures, people promise to better themselves in the following year. Americans have inherited the tradition and even write down their New Year's resolutions. Whatever the resolution, most of them are broken or forgotten by February!
Health Clubs throughout the United States are very crowded during the first few weeks of January. By February, the crowds are gone!
New Years Resolutions
This tradition dates back to the early Babylonians. Popular resolutions today include losing weight and quitting smoking. For the Babylonians, it was returning borrowed farm equipment.
Tournament of Roses Parade
Dating back to 1887 when the Valley Hunt Club decorated carriages with flowers. It celebrated the ripening of the orange crop in California.
Rose Bowl Football Game
Although the Rose Bowl football game was first played as a part of the Tournament of Roses in 1902, it was replaced by Roman chariot races the following year. In 1916, the football game returned as the sports centerpiece of the festival.
The New Years Baby
The tradition of using a baby to signify the new year was begun in Greece around 600 BC. It was their tradition at that time to celebrate their god of wine, Dionysus, by parading a baby in a basket, representing the annual rebirth of that god as the spirit of fertility. Early Egyptians also used a baby as a symbol of rebirth. This was denounced by the early Christians but later the Church allowed the baby which symbolizes the baby Jesus.
New Years Good Luck
It was common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends. Parties often last into the middle of the night after the ringing in of a new year. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year's Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the rest of the year. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man.
New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes "coming full circle," completing a year's cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year's Day will bring good fortune.
In the United States the new year is celebrated by consuming black-eyed peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity.
Along with the black-eyed peas, cabbage is another "good luck" vegetable that is consumed on New Year's Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year's Day.
Aude Lang Syne
The song, "Auld Lang Syne," playing in the background, is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the new year. At least partially written by Robert Burns in the 1700's, it was first published in 1796 after Burns' death. Early variations of the song were sung prior to 1700 and inspired Burns to produce the modern rendition. An old Scotch tune, "Auld Lang Syne" literally means "old long ago," or simply, "the good old days." You are hearing it played on this web page.