New Years Eve Traditions

Many cultures plan extravagant New Years Eve celebrations, but the ancient Babylonians were probably the first ones to do so. Four thousand years ago, the Babylonian revelers celebrated for eleven days beginning with the first crescent moon after the spring equinox. The ancient Greeks' New Years Eve traditions included carrying a baby around in a basket to symbolize rebirth and fertility. This was around 600 B.C. The Roman Senate, in 153 B.C., set January 1 as the date of the New Year, but their emperors considered themselves to be gods on earth. They changed the dates according to their own whims. Julius Caesar set January 1 as the date again in 46 B.C., but the year before lasted over four hundred days to make that possible. That wasn't the end of the matter, though. The Gregorian calendar was designed to align the months with the earth's orbit around the sun. Pope Gregory XIII, in 1582, decreed the use of the Gregorian calendar, but some nations didn't adopt it until the 1700s.

In a sense, January 1st is an odd date because there isn't anything special about it from an astronomical standpoint. Neither does the day conjure up the themes of spring. The date may have been influenced by Scripture. The physician, historian, and Gospel writer, Luke, says that: "And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb" (Luke 2:21). According to the Law given by Moses, all Hebrew male infants were circumcised when they were eight days old. If Jesus was born on December 25, the day His birth is celebrated, then he was eight days old on January 1st. Some denominations observe the Feast of Christ's Circumcision, a tradition with roots in the first centuries of Christendom. The Christian observances seem to have conflicted with the pagan festivities and, in time, certain pagan symbols were popularly adopted and adapted. For example, though the Greek baby also represented Dionysus, the god of wine, contemporary New Years Eve traditions often include the diapered toddler wearing a banner across his tiny chest. We no longer think of him as Dionysus.

For a relatively young country, the citizens of the United States have come up with our own annual New Years Eve celebrations. Every year, practically a million people crowd into the Times Square area of New York City for one of the world's largest annual parties. At exactly 11:59 p.m., Eastern time, the one-ton crystal ball begins its one-minute descent down the 77-foot flagpole. Billions around the world will watch the televised event. This party began in 1904 by Alfred Ochs, owner of the New York Times newspaper. The first three years were celebrated with fireworks. The ball was first dropped three years later, in 1907. These days, the event is synonymous with the perennially-young Dick Clark, a variety of celebrities, and a ton of confetti. People wear funny hats, blow noisemakers, and kiss their loved ones at the stroke of midnight.

Another of our enduring New Years Eve traditions is the singing of a poignant, bittersweet Scottish ballad, Auld Lang Syne. The song dates back to the late 1700s, but became a popular way to say farewell to an old year by bandleader Guy Lombardo. He first played it at a party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1929. Few people seem to know the lyrics, but that doesn't matter. The music conjures up in our popular conscience the bittersweet sadness of days gone by and the promised hope of days to come. The title is translated both as "old long ago" and "old long since."

The stereotypical reveler suffers a hangover on the first day of January. But it's possible to welcome the annual holiday and have a good time without depending on alcohol to provide the excitement. Family-centered New Years Eve celebrations are a great way to make memories that will last a lifetime. Older children can help plan the family's New Years Eve traditions, choosing age-appropriate activities that are fun for everybody. The party may be as simple as a movie marathon with plenty of everyone's favorite foods or a night of playing games with friends. Young children will think it's an adventure to stay up till midnight . . . even when they end up falling asleep on the couch. Depending on the family's budget and interests, the holiday offers one more chance of a quick vacation before the kids go back to school. Ideas for an unforgettable family trip can usually be found by searching travel websites or reading the travel section of a major Sunday newspaper.

Eating pork is supposed to bring prosperity in a New Year. Other good-luck foods are black-eyed peas, cabbage or sauerkraut, and even rice. Depending on where a person was raised, these items may be on the menu for January 1st. Few New Years Eve traditions seem to center around any specific foods. But the party-planner might get a head start on good fortune by baking a ham for her midnight bash. Of course, the best way to have good fortune at a New Year's Eve party is to celebrate the event with the people one loves best. Their New Years Eve celebrations can't be topped even by a crystal ball and a ton of confetti.







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