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A History Lesson: New Year’s Day

1:30

As families around the world gather together to say goodbye to 2016 and welcome the new calendar year, a look back on one of the most festive holidays, New Year's Day, is a fun history lesson to share.

Amazingly, celebrating the New Year goes back about 4,000 years!

New Year’s day hasn’t always been celebrated on the first day of January. The date has changed over the centuries as calendars have been adjusted.

The Babylonians began their new year near the end of March, a logical time to start a new year since winter was over, spring with its new life was beginning, and farmers started planting crops for the coming year.

Throughout antiquity, civilizations around the world developed increasingly sophisticated calendars, typically pinning the first day of the year to an agricultural or astronomical event. In Egypt, for instance, the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile, which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. The first day of the Chinese New Year, meanwhile, occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice.

But, leave it to the Romans to make the mathematical corrections needed to find the appropriate date.

In 153 B.C., the Roman senate decreed the New Year to begin on January 1 to correct the earlier calendars, which had become out of synch with the sun.

While January 1st had no agricultural or season significance, it did have a civil one. On that date the newly elected Roman consuls would step into their positions. Interestingly, the month of January is named for the Roman god Janus, who had two faces, which can represent looking back at the old year and one looking forward to the new one.

Countries around the world bring in the New Year with unique symbols and traditions related to their ancestral history.

The custom of making resolutions on New Year’s Day is as old as the holiday itself. Even the Babylonians made resolutions, the most popular one being to return farm equipment!

The ancient Romans also made resolutions for the New Year; their most popular was to ask for forgiveness from their enemies- one we can still use in this modern age.

The Anglo-Saxons, who settled what is England, had a festival called Yule, which celebrated a fertile and peaceful season. The boar was a part of this celebration and people would make solemn "boar oaths" for the coming year.

Worldwide, New Year celebrations have become intertwined with religious beliefs, good luck, wishes, superstitions…. And traditional foods!

•       In the southern US, black-eyed peas and pork foretell good fortune.

•       Eating any ring-shaped treat (such as a donut) symbolize “coming full circle” and leads to good fortune. In Dutch homes, fritters called olie bollen are served.

•       The Irish enjoy pastries called bannocks.

•       The tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight comes from Spain.

•       In India and Pakistan, rice promises prosperity.

•       Apples dipped in honey are a Rosh Hashanah tradition.

•       In Swiss homes, dollops of whipped cream, symbolizing the richness of the year to come, are dropped on the floors (and allowed to remain there.)

Beverages have also played a large role in celebrating the New Year.

Although the pop of a champagne cork signals the arrival of the New Year around the world, some countries have their own traditions.

•       Wassail, the Gaelic term for “good health” is served in some parts of England.

•       Spiced “hot pint” is the Scottish version of Wassail. Traditionally, the Scots drank to each other’s prosperity and also offered this warm drink to neighbors along with a small gift.

•       In Holland, toasts are made with hot, spiced wine.

Fireworks are also customary in many countries. Millions of people can now watch other nations bring in the New Year on television. Every year the firework displays grow larger and more astonishing; typically set to music.

The ever-popular “Auld Lang Syne” still reverberates throughout many English-speaking countries.

The history of New Year’s Day reminds us that the past is the past, nothing we can do will change that, but a new beginning is available. We can always sweep the dust away and begin creating better tomorrows.

Happy New Year!

Story sources: http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/new-years

http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/new-years

Victoria Doudera, http://www.almanac.com/content/new-year-traditions-around-world

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