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New Year's Origins

Updated: Mar 7

Welcome to the New Year!! I know I'm not the only one who is happy that 2020 is over and we are now looking toward the future of 2021. Hopefully by summer of this year things will be going back to somewhat normalcy. I was going to do a post on the different New Year's Traditions around the world but decided that the history and origins of it was way more interesting. Many places around the world follow the same celebrations with some variations. So let's have a look at the origins of the celebrations instead.

Let's get into it.


Civilizations around the world have been celebrating the start of the new year for at least 4000 years. Today, most celebrations begin on December 31st (New Year's Eve), which is the last day of the Gregorian calendar, and continue into the early hours of January 1st (New Year's Day). Some of the common traditions include attending parties, eating special New Year's foods, making resolutions for the new year and watching fireworks.


Early New Year's Celebrations

The earliest recorded celebrations in honor of a new year's arrival date back 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox; the day in late May with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness; marked the start of a new year. They marked the occasion with a massive festival called Akitu (which is derived from the Sumerian word for barley, which is cut in the spring) that involved a different ritual on each of the 11 days in ran for. Atiku also celebrated the mythical victory of the Babylonian sky god Marduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat and served an important political purpose; it was during this time that a new king was crowned or the current ruler's divine mandate was symbolically renewed.

Throughout antiquity, civilizations around the world developed increasingly sophisticated calendars, typically pinning the first day of the year to an agricultural or astronomical event. In Egypt, the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile, which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. The first day of the Chinese new year thought occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice.


January 1st becomes New Year's Day

The early Roman calendar consisted of 10 months and 304 days, with each year beginning at the vernal equinox; according to tradition, it was created by Romulus; the founder of Rome, in the 8th century B.C. Numa Pompilius, a later king, is credited with adding the months of Januarius and Februarius. As time went on, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. Julius Caesar decided to solve the problem by consulting with the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of his time. He introduced the Julian calendar, which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.

As part of his reform, Caesar instituted January 1st as the first day of the year, partly to honor the month's namesake: Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past as well as looking forward into the future. Romans celebrated by offering sacrifices to Janus, exchanging gifts with one another, decorating their homes with laurel branches and attending raucous parties. In medieval Europe, Christian leaders temporarily replaced January 1st as the first of the year with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25th and March 25th; January 1st was reestablished as New Year's Day by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.


New Year's Traditions

In many countries, New Year's celebrations begin on the evening of December 31st- New Year's Eve- and continue into the early hours of January 1st. Revelers often enjoy meals and snacks thought to bestow good luck for the coming year. In Spain and several other Spanish-speaking countries, people bolt down a dozen grapes- symbolizing their hopes for the months ahead-right before midnight. In many parts of the world, traditional New Year's dishes feature legumes, which are thought to resemble coins and herald future financial success; examples include lentils in Italy and black-eyed peas in the southern United States. Pigs represent progress and prosperity in some cultures, pork appears on the New Year's Eve table in Cuba, Austria, Hungary, Portugal and other countries. Ring shaped cakes and pastries; a sign that the year has come full circle; round out the feast in the Netherlands, Mexico, Greece and elsewhere. In Sweden and Norway, rice pudding with an almond hidden inside is served on New Year's Eve; it is said that whoever finds the nut can expect 12 months of good fortune.

Other customs that are common worldwide include watching fireworks and singing songs to welcome the new year, including the ever-popular "Auld Lang Syne" in many English speaking countries. The practices of making resolutions for the new year is thought to have first caught on among the ancient Babylonians; who made promises in order to earn the favor of the gods and start the year off on the right foot; they would reportedly vow to pay off debts and return borrowed farm equipment.

In the United States, the most iconic New Year's tradition is the dropping of the giant ball in New York City's Times Square at the stroke of midnight. Millions of people around the world watch the even, which has taken place almost every year since 1907. Over time, the ball itself ballooned from a 700-pound iron-and-wood orb to a brightly patterned sphere 12 feet in diameter and weighing in at 12,000 pounds. Various towns and cities across America have developed their own versions of the Times Square ritual; organizing public drops of items ranging from pickles (Dillsburg, Pennsylvania) to possums (Tallapoosa, Georgia) at midnight on New Year's Eve.


So what do I do?

Personally for me I don't typically do anything for New Year's. Sometimes as a family we do board games and snacks but more often than not we don't even stay up till midnight. But sometimes I do feel like staying up and I will just watch movies until midnight, watch the ball drop and then go to bed.

What do you do for New Year's? Do you have a specific tradition that you follow?


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