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Celebrating with New Years Traditions past and present

Written By | Dec 31, 2017

SAN DIEGO, Dec. 31, 2017:   Celebrating the new year is the oldest and most observed holiday tradition around the world. The New Years Traditions we celebrate, and little superstitions we do, come from the ages.

Ancient Babylonians first celebrated the New Year over 4,000 years ago. But they considered New Year’s Eve the night of the first new moon after the vernal equinox or the first day of spring. This would put New Year’s Eve anywhere from March 21 to April 20.

Early days that established New Years Traditions

The beginning of spring is a time of planting new crops and births among animals. So it makes sense that ritual events in the natural world would naturally lead to New Years traditions that would mark this key seasonal turn.

New Years Traditions

(vlad/Flicker Creative Commons)

The Romans also observed the New Year at the beginning of spring. But various emperors kept messing with the Roman calendar and it got out of sync with the seasons. In 153 B.C., the Roman senate declared January 1 to be the official beginning of the New Year, but this edict didn’t stick until Julius Caesar created the Julian Calendar in 46 B.C. Once again, that calendar fixed January 1 as the beginning of a new year.

New Years Traditions

Seattle New Years Eve Fireworks – Flickr Creative Commons

Caesar was also one of the first individuals in recorded history to declare a New Year’s resolution. Caesar offered resolutions of good conduct to the god Janus, the god of beginnings and doorways, whose two faces look both backward and forwards.

The month of January bears his name.

Early Church Opposition to New Years Traditions

During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church remained opposed to celebrating New Year’s Day. January 1 has been a time for celebrating in Western nations for only about the past 400 years.

But now that the Western world is in the swing of it. As a result, we have come up with plenty of New Years traditions and superstitions that people insist upon celebrating to start their year off right.

The influence of January 1st on New Years Traditions

Many people believe what you do the first day of the new year affects the 364 days to follow. This is why people celebrate the first few minutes of the New Year at gatherings or parties with family and friends. For many, the goal is to surround yourself with the people who love you all year long.

Kissing those closest to you at midnight means your ties and affection will continue through the next year. Otherwise, you will encounter a new year of chilly relationships.

A toast to the New Year

Many people around the world enjoy a champagne toast at midnight. This is the modern interpretation of the Greek and Roman custom of pouring wine from a common pitcher to be shared by all at such celebrations.

The host would drink first to assure the wine was not poisoned, which was not uncommon at the time. After that ritual courtesy, he would invite his guests to drink.

New Years Traditions

A toasty New Years Traditions

The wine back in ancient times was often acidic. A piece of burnt bread , or toast, would be used to absorb the extra acid. This is where we get the term “toasting” today.

The singing of “Auld Lang Syne” is a recent tradition from Scotland. It was first published in 1796 after the death of its author, Robert Burns. The title means “long ago” or “the good old days.”

Read also: Auld Lang Syne: CDN’s Top 10 New Year’s Videos for 2018

People believe your first visitor after midnight on New Year’s Day will bring you either good or bad luck the rest of the year.

A tall, dark-haired man is supposed to bring you the best luck. Things will turn out even better if he has a small gift like a loaf of bread in hand. But you are in deep trouble if your first visitor is a blonde or redheaded woman. (I promise not to show up at your house January 1).

Make sure a man crosses your threshold first before any woman. The first visitor should leave by a different door than the one he used to come in.

The wearing of the red for NYE and other superstitions

Your clothing choice on New Year’s Eve is thought to foster certain luck all year. Some believe wearing white from head to toe attracts positive spirits. Green clothing will attract good health. Wearing red underwear is said to bring love, and yellow underwear is supposed to bring wealth. On New Year’s Day, wearing new clothing will increase your prosperity, including more new garments during the coming year.

But don’t do any laundry on New Year’s Day. According to superstition, that means a member of your family will die in the upcoming months. Some people take this so seriously they don’t wash dishes either so no one in their life is “washed away.”

Avoid breaking anything or crying on New Year’s Day lest it set the tone for the year to follow.

While you may feel like sitting around watching football games all day, do something related to your work and make sure you are successful at it, even if you don’t go near your office. That will set the tone for professional success in the year to come.

But refrain from a complicated or serious project, which is believed to be unlucky.

New Years Traditions

Whirling Dervish | Image by Jacquie Kubin – all rights reserved

Put lots of food in your cupboards and refrigerator and some money in every wallet in the house, or both will stay bare all year. Throw absolutely nothing out, not even the trash.

Let nothing leave your house the first day of the year.

Perhaps your neighbors can hear you making a lot of noise at midnight. Its purpose is to scare away any evil spirits that might try to sneak in those wide open doors and windows – even Satan himself!

So all that noise is not merely celebrating. It’s a preventive measure.

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in New York

Among modern American traditions, the hottest spot in the nation to ring in the year is Times Square in New York City. Since 1904, New Year’s Eve parties have regularly taken place there. The first time the now-traditional Times Square Ball fell was 1907.

The original Time Square Ball was made of iron and wood and was illuminated with 100 25-watt light bulbs. Today’s Times Square Ball is a massive, celebratory piece of Waterford crystal that’s lit with 600 light bulbs.

New Years Traditions

“2000 times square ball at waterford” by Hunter Kahn (talk) 02:57, 8 October 2008 (UTC) – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons –

On the West Coast, the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California is a must for hundreds of thousands of spectators who want to start their year off right. The first parade was staged in 1886 with carriages covered in flowers to celebrate the orange crop.

Today, every float in the parade must have all surfaces covered with natural materials like flowers, nuts, leaves and spices.

Mummers in Philly

Philadelphia residents enjoy their traditional Mummer’s Parade, which features “associations” – groups that put together elaborate costumes and props. The parade formally began in 1901, but the tradition of going door to door to receive money and treats goes back to the Swedes, Germans and British who originally settled the city.

Many other communities hold Polar Bear Swims on New Year’s Day, during which people take a brisk swim in frigid lakes, streams or ocean waters. Some participants claim it’s fun. Some like starting their year with a challenge, and others say it’s a bracing reminder that it is good to be alive as another new year arrives.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is president/owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.

Copyright © 2015 by Falcon Valley Group

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Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award-winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.