The evening’s script is pretty much the same wherever you’re celebrating New Year’s in America. People dressing up in their best clothes, popping bottles of champagne, singing “Auld Lang Syne”, kissing a loved one and fireworks at the stroke of midnight. But how exactly did these traditions begin?
New Year’s was first celebrated 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon. Although the Babylonians did not have a written calendar, historians determined that they observed the start of the new year during the vernal equinox in mid-March and history states that they celebrated with an eleven-day festival named Akitu was held that would probably put our current parties to shame. The Roman calendar went through a number of changes as different emperors came to power. It wasn’t until Julius Caesar took the throne in 49 B.C. that the calendar was adjusted so that January falls where it does today.
From popping open a bottle of champagne to watching the ball drop in Times Square, here are the roots of a few most popular New Year’s Eve traditions.
Making a resolution
Making New Year’s resolutions dates back at least to the time of Ancient Babylonia where people made public spoken resolutions. The resolutions were required as a way pf making an oath to the king, and were considered essential to keep the kingdom in the gods’ favor. For centuries, the act of making resolutions in many cultures has represented a purifying ritual that allows one to repent for their overindulgence. everybody is going to eat and drink to excess, “and then the next day you’ll wake up and hopefully you’ll have your resolutions to do the next year better.” In present day making a resolution is a tradition where someone makes a resolution change an undesired trait or bad behavior, sets out to accomplish a personal goal or otherwise make improvements to their life.
Kissing a loved one
Puckering up at the stroke of midnight is a tradition with ancient roots. Many cultures considered the transition from the warm to the cold seasons to be an intensely vulnerable time, when evil spirits could run amok. According to English and German folklore, the first person you encounter in a new year sets the tone for the rest of the year. A kiss is about strengthening ties you wish to maintain in the future. Kissing the person you love shores up that relationship in the year to come. If a couple celebrating together doesn’t take the time to lock lips, the relationship could be doomed.
Champagne has a lavish history dating back to the 16th century. Long before we started drinking bubbly to ring in the new year, European aristocrats were popping bottles at their royal parties.
Only the rich and elite drank champagne at the time because it was so expensive. Eventually, winemakers started developing the technology to bottle carbonated wine.
The price of champagne declined and producers started marketing it to common folk in the 1800s. Champagne quickly became the ultimate New Year’s celebration beverage when the producers of Champagne started to link the bubbly to festive occasions in popular advertising campaigns. Since the wine was long associated with nobility, ads sold it to new customers as an aspiration to drink on special occasions. Champagne is now synonymous with marking any big moments in life.
“Auld lang syne”
“Auld Lang Syne,” is a poem that was written and combined with a traditional folk song by Robert Burns in 1788. In English, the literal translation of Auld Lang Syne is “old long times,” but it means something more along the lines of “once upon a time.” The nostalgic tune soon became a mainstay at British and Scottish funerals, farewells and group celebrations. It didn’t make it across the pond as a New Year’s tradition until 1929. It is said that in 1929, Lombordo and his band were playing for a New Year’s Eve party in New York City, and at the stroke of midnight they played Auld Lang Syne. The band’s dispersal of the song soon spread to the radio and TV as their New Year’s Eve piece and this was the start of a new worldwide New Year tradition.
In the United States, the most iconic New Year’s tradition is the dropping of a giant ball in Times Square at the stroke of midnight. Millions of people around the world watch the event, which has taken place almost every year since 1907. Since the first ball drop, there have been seven balls, according to the Times Square Alliance. Over time, the ball has grown from a 700-pound iron-and-wood ball to a brightly patterned orb approximately 12 feet in diameter, weighing about 12,000 pounds and adorned with thousands of crystals and lights.
Most people love a good firework display and others never need an excuse to make something explode
People around the world ring in the new year with noisemakers, sparklers and fireworks. In some cultures people bang drums and run wildly into the corners of their room to spook the spooky creatures lurking in the night. “Noisemaking” and fireworks on New Year’s eve is believed to have originated in ancient times, when noise and fire were thought to dispel evil spirits and bring good luck. The Chinese are credited with inventing fireworks and use them in every New Year’s celebrations.
Other Traditions found around the world
While there are some commonalities across the world, almost every culture has its unique take on the new year. Here are a few interesting traditions:
In Mexico, many people may eat one grape for every chime of the church bells at midnight.
Aztecs used to burn all of their mats during the new year, as fire was considered cleansing.
The English have a tradition of leaving money out on their porch to be purified.
The Swiss will drop rich dollops of whipped cream to the floor and leave them there to usher in riches.
The Turks wear red underwear, run the faucet and sprinkle salt on their doorsteps to ensure prosperity.