New Year's History
2000 years ago and then some, it is believed that Ancient Babylonians began their New Year with the first New Moon after the Spring Equinox. A logical time to celebrate, spring brings with it new growth and has always been symbolic of hope and the promise of things to come. The Babylonians feasted for eleven days, each day with its own festive theme.
Fast forward to Julius Caesar who, during a visit to Egypt around 150 BC, found the calendar of his dreams. The Romans tried to follow the same cycle as set by the Egyptians with the New Year beginning in spring. But scholars and emperors continued to finagle with the calendar until it fell out of synchronization with the sun. The Roman senate, in an attempt to get everything back on track, named January 1 as the first day of the year, and eventually it was entitled the Julian Calendar.
Still the calendar was constantly being revised and manipulated by various people, until 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII established the Gregorian Calendar. This calendar set the dates in stone and offered a clear distinction of the four seasons. The Gregorian Calendar is what most of the Western world uses.
"Baby New Year" and "Father Time"
The tradition of a "Baby New Year" is said to have started in Greece around 600 BC. In celebration of Dionysus, god of wine, a baby in a basket represented the annual rebirth of the god as the spirit of fertility. An obvious correlation, today Baby New Year symbolizes the young year, and old Father Time reminds us how the year has aged. However, it was the 14th century Germans who are credited with having a New Year's banner with the image of a baby as a symbol of the New Year.
New Year's Eve Customs Around the World
Our friends around the world have wonderful traditions for welcoming the New Year. In Rio de Janeiro, people go to the beaches to watch fireworks and take a midnight dip in the water, offering flowers and a wish to the goddess Lemanja.
The English look to the "first-footer," or the first person to step foot into their house, to tell them how next year's luck will be.
New Year's Day marks the Festival of Saint Basil in Greece, where children leave their shoes out to be filled with gifts. St. Basil's Bread is baked with small trinkets inside, bringing luck to those who find them.
Italians hang mistletoe over the front door to bring good luck.
Women in Mexico wear red underwear if they wish to marry in the New Year, and pink is worn by pregnant women to bring luck to the baby. Those hoping to travel, carry an empty suitcase around the block.
Many people in Spain and Latin countries eat 12 grapes at midnight, as a bell is rung 12 times. Each grape represents a month of the year. By eating them at midnight one hopes to have happiness and luck for the next 12 months.
Since 1904, Times Square in New York City has been a hot spot for New Year's Eve celebrations. Originally, the owners of the square held rooftop parties, and now the streets are flooded with people nose-to-nose in the freezing cold just to watch the big ball drop. The first time the ball took the plunge was on New Year's Eve 1907! Back then, the Times Square Ball was made of iron and wood and decorated with 100 25-watt light bulbs.
Today, half a million people gaze at the sphere made of Waterford crystal and lit by 600 bulbs as it drops from the top of a skyscraper at midnight. For years, adored TV veteran, Dick Clark, hosted the event, broadcasting live from Times Square. Currently, a group of hosts join him in the celebration.
The Tournament of Roses Parade
In 1886, members of the Valley Hunt Club decorated their carriages with flowers and paraded through Pasadena, CA, celebrating the ripe orange crop. Today, large elaborate floats covered with flowers, nuts, and organic materials, join in the pageantry of The Tournament of Roses Parade. The Rose Bowl, a football game, has traditionally followed the parade since 1902, with a brief "time-out" when the sport was replaced with Roman chariot races in 1903. Thirteen years later, much to its fans delight, football made a comeback!
The Mummer's Parade
A Philadelphia tradition with beginnings in the 1700's, the Swedish, English, and Germans brought their custom of a "Second Day Christmas" to America where they would visit friends on December 26. This tradition extended into the New Year and was initially marked by musket fire and a noisy parade. Mummers went house to house, dressed up or with blackened faces, shouting, shooting, and chanting, in hopes of receiving spirits, money, and cakes. The title "mummers" was taken from the English mummers play of St. George and the Dragon. Today mummers still chant, dress in hilarious costumes, and are a loud as can be during this 12-hour parade.
Church bells ring and people make a lot of noise all around the world when the clock strikes 12:00. This tradition is believed to be from the ancient belief that if one was loud and made enough of a raucous they could drive evil spirits away.
New Year's Resolutions
Whether it is be a silent promise to one's self to stop telling white lies or a big declaration of intent to lose weight, a New Year's resolution is a must. Many find it easier to make a fresh beginning as symbolized by January 1.
The Polar Bear Swim
In British Columbia, Canada, and other freezing countries of the world, people plunge into the ice-cold water, and take the traditional polar bear swim on New Year's Day. Some say it's "just plain fun" whereas others look at the frigid frolic as a reminder that "it's great to be alive for another year!"