New Year’s Day
New Year’s Day is a holiday observed on the first day of January on the Gregorian calendar, which is January 1st. For many people, it marks the end of the holiday season, and it is also a day when many start their New Year’s resolutions. The arrival of the New Year is usually met with much fanfare, which typically includes fireworks, parties, and people kissing their significant others.
History of New Year’s Day
For the past 4,000 years, human civilizations across the globe have recognized the arrival of a new year. The Babylonians had the earliest record of ancient New Year’s Day festivities, although theirs was not held on January 1st.
Their New Year’s Day was held after the vernal equinox, which is considered by many to be the arrival of spring that occurs between March 20th and March 23rd. The 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 took place over the course of eleven days and would start with prayers being recited to the public. This day served three functions at once.
It celebrated the beginning of the New Year, the victory of the mythical god Marduk over the primordial goddess of the sea, Tiamat, and the day a new king was crowned. Over the years, different civilizations observed New Year’s Day in various ways and on different days.
The Egyptians began their new year with the annual flooding of the Nile. 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 after the arrival of the winter solstice.
It wasn’t until 46 BC that Julius Caesar decided New Year’s Day should fall on January 1st. It is believed it was set this way because January is named after the god Janus, the god of new beginnings. Over the centuries following the murder of Caesar, January 1st alternated between being a holiday and not.
In 567 AD, the Council of Tours decided that January 1st should not be New Year’s Day. Instead, it should be celebrated on December 25th. During the 7th century, it was reinstated briefly before being discontinued again. It wasn’t until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century that it was 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 among many countries. For instance, in many countries, the festivities begin on New Year’s Eve and continue until midnight on New Year’s Day. This often 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 a 12-foot sphere that weighed around 700 pounds and was made of wood and 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, including the U.S., the song “Auld Lang Syne” is sung 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 the practice of making resolutions goes back to the Babylonians, who would make promises to curry favor with the gods.
It is also common for many countries to have fireworks 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. 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. In 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. Often, sauerkraut is served with the pork. In Nordic countries, a rice pudding with an almond hidden inside 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 overindulging in food and alcohol the night before. Usually, there are parades held all over the world, and these are often televised, giving those who are nursing a hangover or an upset stomach something to watch while they recover.