New Year's is a time of new beginnings, celebration and spending time together with friends and family. During the holiday, many people will reflect on significant events that occurred in their lives over the past year. Many will also use the holiday to look to the future and the promise that tomorrow holds.
The celebration of New Year's Day has evolved over many years. One of the earliest recorded celebrations of the holiday was the Akitu festival held over 4000 years ago by the Babylonians in Ancient Mesopotamia. Babylon was located on the Euphrates River in what is now present day Iraq. The Akitu festival was celebrated near the vernal (spring) equinox on March 21 and lasted eleven days with a different ceremony held each day. The Akitu ritual "exemplif[ies] a cosmogonic new Year's festival: through its rites, the Esagila temple, and hence the world, are symbolically razed, purified, and re-created; kingship, and hence cosmic order, are abolished and renewed."1
When Julius Caesar abolished the ancient calendar and created the Julian calendar, January 1st became the first day of the New Year. After his assassination in 44 BC, the Romans chose to celebrate his life on the first day of each year, January 1st.
Another reason the Ancient Romans chose to celebrate on January 1st was to honor the Roman god Janus of which January was named after. According to Wikipedia, Janus was the god of gates and doors, and symbolized transition and new beginnings. Janus had two faces, with one looking over the past year and one looking toward the New Year.2
The concept of looking over the past and looking forward to the future does not seem to havechanged much over time. This concept remains as one central idea of the way in which people still celebrate the New Year.
After the Gregorian calendar became effective, many countries throughout the world adopted January 1st as New Year's Day and hold celebrations of the New Year on that day. However, some countries do not inclusively abide by the Gregorian calendar. China, for example, still uses two different calendars, the Gregorian calendar and the Chinese calendar which is a lunar calendar.
The Chinese calendar is primarily used for traditional celebratory days. It is from this calendar in which the Chinese New Year is celebrated. The Chinese New Year celebration is calculated from the month in which the winter solstice occurs. After determining this month, the Chinese New Year celebration will begin on the second new moon after the winter solstice. The celebration, traditionally, lasted 15 days but currently is held for approximately one week. In addition, many Chinese consider January 1st as New Year’s Day and have renamed the Chinese New Year period the Spring Festival celebration.
Times Square Ball - New Year's Eve parties occur all over the world on December 31st of the year before New Year's Day. In New York City, the traditional Times Square Ball is lowered slowly for 60 seconds beginning at 11:59 p.m., EST, on December 31st. "The first ball drop in Times Square took place on December 31, 1907, and has been held annually since (except in 1942 and 1943, when the ball drop itself was not held in observance of wartime blackouts)."3
Auld Lang Syne - During a New Year's Eve party, it is traditional to sing the song Auld Lang Syne to end the old year and begin the new year. Auld Lang Syne is an old Scottish poem or folk song written down by Robert Burns during the late 1700's. Some of the translations for Auld Lang Syne include 'times gone by', 'times long past', or 'days gone by'.
Polar Bear Plunges - Polar Bear plunges occur in many countries throughout the world. A Polar Bear plunge occurs usually on January 1st in a body of water. In many plunges, participants disperse of all clothing except for swimsuits and jump into a body of water having a very cold temperature. Some plunges are held for charities and raise funds to help those in need. Others are held only for the celebration of the holiday.
College Football - In many countries, families get together on New Year's Day and celebrate the New Year with food and drinks. Throughout the United States, many watch professional or college football games with the hopes that their team will win starting the New Year on a positive note. One college football game occurring on New Year's Day is the Rose Bowl which is played in Pasadena California. Other games played include the Outback Bowl and the Capital One Bowl. If January 1st falls on a Sunday, the professional National Football League (NFL) teams will play. The college bowl games will be played on another day.
Resolutions - The most common tradition associated with the holiday is the tradition of making New Year's resolutions. When making a resolution, people will often challenge themselves to achieve a goal. These goals differ from person to person. Some examples of New Year's resolutions include starting a new career, beginning a new exercise plan, reading new books, traveling more or meeting new people.
Finally, there have been many people throughout history who have honored New Year's Day by writing stories, songs or poems. Two poems written by Violet Fuller are "The Old Year" and "The New Year" which are found on the left.
In whatever country one lives in, New Year's Day is a day to celebrate a new beginning in one's life. Saying 'goodbye' to the past and 'hello' to the future is a new beginning for a new year!
1. Sommer, Benjamin D. "The Babylonian Akitu Festival: Rectifying the King or Renewing the Cosmos?," Northwestern University,
2. "New Year’s Day," Wikipedia, last modified on December 7, 2012,
3. "Times Square Ball," Wikipedia, last modified on December 13, 2012,