ANCIENT NEW YEARS
The celebration of the new year is the oldest of all .
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 cresent) after the Vernal
Equinox (first day of spring).
The 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 arbitrary.
The 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.
The 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.
In order 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.
THE 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.
During 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
NEW YEAR TRADITIONS
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.
The 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.
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 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.
Although 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.
The use 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.
FOR 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.
Many 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.
AULD 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." The lyrics can be found here.