Many countries now celebrate New Year’s Eve on December 31st, but have you ever wondered how the tradition began?
Long before any of us were born, the Babylonians celebrated their new year after the vernal equinox—the day in late March with equal daylight and darkness hours. The Babylonians celebrated with festivities and offerings to their gods, including making New Year’s resolutions.
The Romans, however, changed the calendar many years after the Babylonians by adding two more months, Januairius and Februarius. Roman emperor Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar and proclaimed January 1st as the first day of the new year in 46 BC. The Julian calendar was used until 1582 when today’s Gregorian calendar came into use.
Januarius is named for Janus, the Roman god of beginnings. Janus has two faces allowing him to look backward into the past and forward into the future at the same time. Romans exchanged gifts, decorated their homes with laurel wreaths, offered sacrifices, and attended loud raucous parties. Similar to what we do today worldwide, except for the sacrifice part (although some countries and tribes continue to sacrifice).
Today, New Year’s Eve traditions continue worldwide in most countries. Festive gatherings, fireworks, singing songs, and special foods are a major part of many New Year’s Eve events. Spain celebrates by hanging a dozen grapes on their doors—one grape for each of the twelve months symbolizing hope. In other countries, a ring-shaped cake is served symbolizing that a year has come full circle. Countries that believe pork represents prosperity will serve a meal with pork hoping for prosperity in the new year. And in the US, the dropping of the Waterford crystal ball in Times Square will be viewed by over a billion people worldwide when the clock strikes Midnight on December 31st.
And what about New Year’s resolutions? Making resolutions is believed to have started by those ancient Babylonians who wanted to appear favorably to their gods by gracing them with promises to start the new year off right. We continue to do that today in many countries even though most resolutions are never resolved. And most of us know that, but we do it anyway, for fun.