Folklore, superstitions and traditions surrounding the welcoming of a new year.
The first known observance of New Years day was in ancient Babylon over 4000 years ago, and at that time it was celebrated in March – signifying spring as the new beginning.
The tradition of making resolutions on New Year’s Eve also began with the ancient Babylonians but was quite different from the way we think of it today. The ancients felt that the best way to begin the new year was with a clear conscious and so resolved to return all the items they had borrowed from each other during the year. How the resolution making got from that to “I will lose weight,” is anyone’s guess – yet, over many centuries, this tradition has remained an important part of the celebration. The most modern version seems to be making resolutions that you can break!
The Romans also celebrated the New Year in March, that is until 46 BC, when Julius Caesar designated New Year’s Day as January 1st, to make sure the days were back in touch with the changes that the sun went through. After many changes to the Roman calendar, the days were so out of sync with the sun that order had to be restored, so January 1 remained the first day of the New Year on the Roman calendar. The tradition was picked up and continued by other cultures.
The image of “Father Time” is often used to personify the old year and the “Baby” usually shown with him is to depict the New Year. Father Time is usually an elderly bearded man, dressed in a robe, carrying a scythe and an hourglass or other timekeeping device. He was adapted from Cronus, the father of Zeus, and belonged to the people known as the Titans in ancient mythology. Cronus existed before the Greek gods far back in the earliest stages of mythology. The common image of Baby New Year as the figure of a baby wearing nothing more than a diaper, a top hat and a sash across his torso that shows the year he is representing may be a new one, but the custom of using a Baby to represent the New year actually began in Greece in 600 BC.
J.C. Leyendecker’s December 28, 1907 cover of The Saturday Evening Post depicted a stork and Baby New Year. The myth associated with him is that he is a baby at the beginning of his year, but Baby New Year quickly grows up until he is an elderly bearded man like Father Time at the end of his year. At this point, he hands over his duties to the next Baby New Year and so the march of time continues.