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Many New Year’s Day Traditions Began with Ancient Celebrations

New Year’s celebrations can be traced back to 4000 years ago in ancient Babylon. While some things have changed, such as the date when the new year began and the most popular resolution, many of today’s traditions are the same as they were thousands of years ago.

The Babylonian’s New Year celebrations didn’t begin on January 1st.   The new year began with the first visible crescent moon after the Vernal Equinox, which is the first day of Spring.  The celebration would continue for a total of 11 days.  There’s probably not a boss in the world today that would go for that! The present day world has definitely shortened the celebration.  

Because the Roman calendar was always being changed by emperors, eventually the calendar was no longer in synch with the sun.  Due to the calendar being out of synch, January 1 was finally chosen to be the beginning of the new year.  But for the next 107 years, the calendar continued to be tampered with.  Julius Caesar finally was able to synchronize the calendar with the sun by letting the previous year continue for 445 days. That probably worked out really well for anyone who was having a great year.

The tradition of making resolutions for the new year also started with the Babylonians. In today’s world, popular resolutions are to stop smoking and lose weight, but the most popular resolution of the Babylonians was to return any farm equipment they had borrowed earlier in the year.

The Greeks began the “Baby New Year” tradition around 600 B.C.  They would take a baby all around in a basket in celebration of Dionysus, the god of wine and the spirit of fertility.  But it was the Germans who started the popular images of a baby with a “Happy New Year” banner.

In ancient times, people thought their luck was affected by whatever they did on the first day of the year, or even by what they ate.  Having a tall dark-haired man be the first guest of the new year would result in exceptionally good luck.  Unless you fit that description it probably wasn’t worth going visiting on New Year’s Day.  Everyone else probably knocked on friends’ doors but no one answered. It seemed nobody was home; or perhaps they were home but were waiting on their dark-haired male visitor to arrive.

It was the thought of many cultures that any object creating a circle was a good luck symbol.  The Dutch would eat donuts on New Year’s Day to bring them luck.  Too bad the rest of us weren’t informed.

In the United States, the New Year’s Day meal varies in different locations.  Eating black-eyed peas is considered to be lucky in several parts of the United States. Black-eyed peas are usually served with ham, because the hog is a symbol of prosperity. Some locations also eat greens, or cabbage, spinach, etc. because green is the color of money.  Still, other parts of the United States eat rice for luck.

Singing Auld Lang Sine began around the late 1700’s or early 1800’s. It was from a poem partially written by Robert Burns in the mid 1700’s.  He sent a copy of it to the Scots Musical Museum stating it had never been in print before he took the words down from an old man.  A ballad from 1711 by James Watson is titled Old Long Syne and has very similar verses to the poem Robert Burns gave to the Scots Museum.

We often follow traditions year after year and never know, or even think, about their origins. It’s fascinating that some of our New Year’s traditions began around 4000 years ago.   The Dutch tradition of eating donuts for good luck and prosperity is truly worthwhile information, and will be a welcome treat both before and after the ham, black-eyed peas, cabbage and rice. Put the diet off for a day and have a donut.  We need all the luck we can get!

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