A glass of something sparkly. A kiss when the clock strikes twelve. Parties and toasts and noise makers and resolutions. New Year’s Eve is a time-honored tradition, but the question is, how long has it really been around?
The first known New Year’s celebration began in Mesopotamia around 2000 B.C. To ring in the new year, the people held an eleven-day religious festival called Akitu (meaning barley in Sumerian), with a different ritual each day. These festivities aligned with the vernal equinox, near the end of March.
For Egyptians, Persians, and Phoenicians, the new year didn’t start in January or March. They celebrated during the autumn equinox. In Egypt, the annual flooding of the Nile marked the start of the new year. In Greece, the new year was marked by the winter solstice, and instead of an NYC ball drop, they threw a giant discus (I’m assuming).
So why doesn’t our new year line up with an equinox or solstice?
The early Roman ten-month calendar set March 1 as the first day of the new year, with September through December as the seventh through tenth months. But, in 700 B.C. the second king of Rome added January and February to the calendar, and in 153 B.C., the new year moved from March to January to match up with the beginning of the civil year. In January, the two newly elected Roman consuls – big cheese boss men of the republic – began their one-year tenure.
Old habits die hard, and though the new year had been moved, the people often remained loyal to the previous date. That is until Julius Caesar came along. In 46 B.C, like Elon’s Twitter, Caesar completely restructured the ancient Roman lunar calendar. His calendar was solar-based, and unlike Elon’s Twitter, a welcome improvement. This calendar designated January 1 as the beginning of the new year, and it was widely observed as such. To celebrate the new year, people would offer sacrifices to Janus (the god of beginnings), exchange gifts, and decorate with laurel branches.
The Romans Need Jesus
This didn’t last too long though. In medieval Europe, such celebrations were considered pagan, and as such, the Council of Tours decided to Christianize new year’s day in 567 A.D. At different times all over Europe, the new year aligned with the birth of Jesus on December 25, or with the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25.
Why doesn’t our current new year start in December or March?
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII recognized the calendar we use today, the Gregorian calendar, in Rome. This calendar was quickly implemented by most Catholic countries, and slowly but surely adopted by most European countries. Today, there are only a few countries in the world that do not use the Gregorian calendar, and therefore, only a few countries who do not celebrate New Year’s Eve on December 31.
All over the world people celebrate New Year’s and they all have their own associated festivities and traditions.
In Spain, eating exactly twelve grapes on New Year’s Eve, no more no less, is said to bring you good luck. One grape for each stroke of the clock and if not, you may suffer harsh consequences. It’s like one of those email chains – repost or bad luck for a million years.
Italians eat lentils, and Americans eat black-eyed peas to harness the power of the legume in bringing financial prosperity.
In several countries, round cakes symbolize the circle of life and good luck comes to those who find the hidden treasure within it.
In Japan, soba noodles are eaten to symbolize a journey from old to new.
Pork in Portugal means progress.
In Greece, hanging onions on your door represents growth and rebirth.
There are dozens of NYE traditions from singing Auld Lang Syne to watching a spectacular firework show, all in the spirit of growing older and yet, always having the opportunity to begin again.
What are you doing on New Year’s Eve? We hope hanging out with us at the Luminaria New Year’s Eve party!