“Should auld acquaintance be forgot,and never brought to mind ?Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?”
You’re humming the tune, yes? To be honest, it wasn’t until I listened to the Barenaked Ladies “Barenaked for the Holidays” that I really started to figure out the words to that New Years-y tune. Now, a handful of years later, I know the first verse and the chorus…still failing, I suppose, but at least I try. Anyway, the purpose of this intro is to announce (in case you’re living under a rock) that tomorrow is officially New Year’s Day, meaning tonight will be a time of fun and festivities. So, how about a little history? Surely, you’re a little curious
New Year celebrations are not a new thing. In fact, the New Year has been celebrated in some fashion for the last four millennia. Some of the earliest celebrations can be attributed to ancient Babylonians. The first new moon following the vernal (spring) equinox was the herald of the New Year for the Babylonians. They would celebrate with a massive religious festival called Akitu. Other ancient peoples celebrated similarly, pinning the New Year to an astronomical or agricultural event. For example, the Egyptian’s New Year began with the annual flooding of the Nile and the Chinese New Year occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice.
As time progressed, so did our calendar making skills. The early calendars had only 10 months and 304 days, beginning with March. Many of the dates coincided with some lunar or, eventually, solar event. Sometime after the eighth century B.C. Numa Pompilius is said to have created Januarius and Februarius (January and February). In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar (emperor at the time) noticed that the calendar was out of sync with the sun and, after consulting prominent astronomers and mathematicians, created the Julian calendar, which is a close representation of the Gregorian calendar most of us use today. As a part of his changes, January 1 became the beginning of the New Year, though this was partly in honor of Janus (the month’s name sake and Roman god of beginnings). Celebrations during this time included offering sacrifices to Janus, exchanging of gifts, house decoration vis laurel branches, and raucous parties.
Medieval Europeans, specifically the religious leaders, were not “hunky dory” with the lack of significance for christians and moved the date of the new year to more “religious” days like December 25th (birth of Christ) or March 25 (Feast of Annunciation). In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII re-established January 1 as New Year’s Day.
Now that New Year’s Day has been set for at January 1 for most countries for just a ‘little’ while, we’ve come up with some special ways to celebrate. These frequently include food, song, and bright & shiny explosions or balls. In the U.S. we tend to eat black-eyed peas for financial success, shoot off fireworks, and drop a 12,000 pound lighted ball. In Cuba, Austria, Hungary, Portugal, and others pork is a staple in the New Year’s feasts. Some countries opt for a ring-shaped cake to represent the “rounding out of the year” and the Swedes and Norwegians dine on rice pudding with a hidden almond (the lucky ‘finder’ is purported to have good fortune for the next 12 months). Many areas shoot off fireworks, and some have adopted America’s ball drop at midnight, though some have taken it a little off track by dropping a pickle (PA) or some other odd object. The New Year’s resolution has some history, having started (perhaps) with the Babylonians making promises in order to earn the favor of the gods. A final bit of New Year’s fun for many peoples is the singing of songs. Most English-speaking countries love to belt out “Auld Lang Syne” (which basically means ‘old long since’ or ‘old times’, making the line “For old lang syne” into “for old times sake”).
This year, as you celebrate with friends and family, drinks and snacks, fireworks and a giant lighted ball, remember that it’s actually an ancient holiday to ring in a new and, hopefully, prosperous new year. It’s a time to leave the past behind, and start our fresh. Have fun, be safe, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!