New Year!" That greeting will be said and heard for at least the first
couple of weeks as a new year gets under way. But the day celebrated as New
Year's Day in modern America was not always January 1.
The celebration of the New Year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first
observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. In the years around 2000 BC,
the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon (actually the first
visible crescent) after the Vernal Equinox (first day of spring).
beginning of spring is a logical time to start a new year. After all, it is the
season of rebirth, of planting new crops, and of blossoming. January 1, on the
other hand, has no astronomical nor agricultural significance. It is purely
Babylonian New Year celebration lasted for eleven days. Each day had its own
particular mode of celebration, but it is safe to say that modern New Year's Eve
festivities pale in comparison.
Romans continued to observe the New Year in late March, but their calendar was
continually tampered with by various emperors so that the calendar soon became
out of synchronization with the sun.
to set the calendar right, the Roman senate, in 153 BC, declared January 1 to be
the beginning of the New Year. But tampering continued until Julius Caesar, in
46 BC, established what has come to be known as the Julian calendar. It again
established January 1 as the New Year. But in order to synchronize the calendar
with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for 445 days.
CHURCH'S VIEW OF NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS
Although in the first centuries AD the Romans continued celebrating the New
Year, the early Catholic Church condemned the festivities as paganism. But as
Christianity became more widespread, the early church began having its own
religious observances concurrently with many of the pagan celebrations, and New
Year's Day was no different. New Years is still observed as the Feast of
Christ's Circumcision by some denominations.
the Middle Ages, the Church remained opposed to celebrating New Years. January 1
has been celebrated as a holiday by Western nations for only about the past 400
Other traditions of the season include the making of New Year's resolutions.
That tradition also dates back to the early Babylonians. Popular modern
resolutions might include the promise to lose weight or quit smoking. The early
Babylonian's most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment.
Tournament of Roses Parade dates back to 1886. In that year, members of the
Valley Hunt Club decorated their carriages with flowers. It celebrated the
ripening of the orange crop in California.
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.
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.
the early Christians denounced the practice as pagan, the popularity of the baby
as a symbol of rebirth forced the Church to reevaluate its position. The Church
finally allowed its members to celebrate the New Year with a baby, which was to
symbolize the birth of the baby Jesus.
of an image of a baby with a New Years banner as a symbolic representation of
the New Year was brought to early America by the Germans. They had used the
effigy since the fourteenth century.
LUCK IN THE NEW YEAR
Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have
throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year.
For that reason, it has become 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.
parts of the U.S. celebrate the New Year 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. 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.
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."