New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day is a holiday that is observed on the first day of January on the Gregorian calendar – which is January 1st.  For many people, it is seen as the end of the holiday season and it is also a day in which many people start their New Year resolutions. The arrival of the New Year is usually met with much fanfare – which usually includes fireworks, parties and people kissing their significant others.

History of New Year’s Day

For the past 4,000 years, human civilizations all over the globe have recognized the arrival of a new year. Babylonians had the earliest record of ancient New Year Day’s festivities, although theirs wasn’t held on January 1st. Their New Year’s Day was held after the vernal equinox – what is considered by many to be the arrival of spring that occurs between March 20th and March 23rd. Babylonians would mark this day with a festival called Akitu – a religious festival that commemorated the Spring harvest. The name for this holiday, Akitu, actually means “barley” in Sumerian. This ritual would take place over the course of eleven days and would start with prayers being recited to the public.  That’ because this day actually served three functions at once. It not only celebrated the beginning of the New Year and the victory of the mythical god Marduk over the primordial goddess of the sea, Tiamat but is also the day in which a new king was crowned.

Over the years, different civilization observed New Year’s Day in different ways and on different days. The Egyptians would begin their new year when the annual flooding of the Nile occurred. In Persia, the New Year was observed for a period of 13 days after the beginning of the vernal equinox. In China, it was observed on the second new moon that occurred after the arrival of the winter solstice. It wasn’t until 46 BC that Julius Caesar decided that New Year’s Day should fall on January 1st. It is believed it was set up this way because January is named after the god Janus – which is the god of new beginnings. Over the many centuries following the murder of Caesar, January 1st alternated being a holiday and not being one. In 567 AD, the Council of Tours decided that January 1st shouldn’t be New Year’s Day. It was decided that it should be celebrated on December 25th. During the 7th century, it was reinstated briefly before it was discontinued again. It wouldn’t be until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar during the 16th century that it would be reinstated on a permanent basis.

New Year’s Day Customs & Traditions

While New Year’s Day celebrations differ from one country to the next, there are some similarities between many countries. For instance, in a lot of different countries, the festivities begin on New Year’s Eve and continue into midnight of New Year’s Day. In many countries, this coincides with a countdown to midnight. In the U.S., the traditional dropping of a giant ball takes place in New York City’s Times Square. Originally, the ball was 12-foot sphere that weighed around 700 pounds and was made of wood & metal. However, it has grown over the years. It is now a sphere that’s 12 feet in diameter and weighs almost 12,000 pounds.

In many English speaking countries, the U.S included, the song “Auld Lang Syne” is after the clock strikes midnight. It is also during this time that many people make New Year’s Day Resolutions or promises to themselves. These resolutions are usually related to some form of self-improvement like quitting smoking or losing weight. It is believed that this practice of making resolutions goes all the way back to the Babylonians who would make promises in order to curry favor with the gods.

It is also common for many countries to have firework displays after the stroke of midnight. Many people choose to celebrate the New Year with a feast and the foods used to celebrate this day can be as diverse as the countries involved, and in many instances, the foods eaten are thought to bring good luck. In the Southern United States, it is common to celebrate with black eyed peas. In Spain, 12 grapes are eaten at the stroke of midnight. It Italy, legumes are consumed and are considered lucky. In some cultures, pork is considered to herald prosperity and the New Year’s Day meal is centered around it. This is especially true in the United States, Austria, Cuba and Portugal. Oftentimes sauerkraut is served with the pork. In Nordic countries, oftentimes a rice pudding with an almond hidden in it is served. It is believed that the person who finds it will have an entire year of good fortune.

However, one of the most time-honored New Year’s Day traditions is to stay home and recover from the overindulges in food and alcohol the night before. Usually, there are parades held all over the world and these are often televised, so it gives those who are nursing a hangover or an upset stomach something to do while they recover.