Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!  Today we say good-bye to this past year and welcome 2014—a year that will bring the 227th anniversary of the Constitution! But before the celebrations begin, we thought we would take a minute to explore the fun history and traditions surrounding the New Year’s holiday.

Party like it’s 1999…B.C.

New Year’s is one of the worlds oldest holidays.  It was first celebrated about 2000 years ago as an 11-day festival in Ancient Babylon.  Back then they partied in the springtime, a fairly logical time to celebrate a new year, as it’s the time of year when everything comes back to life after the winter season.

So when is New Year’s Anyway?

There’s really no reason we have to start our calendar year in winter.  After all, the Babylonians didn’t, and you could definitely make the argument that the holiday makes more sense in spring.   It was Julius Caesar who made January the first month of the year, as it was named for the Roman god of doors and gates (or entrances and exits) Janus.  Janus was often portrayed with two heads, one looking forward and one backwards, so Caesar thought he was an appropriate figure to associate with the New Year.

“I really mean it this year…”

The best part about New Year’s Eve is all the traditions surrounding the holiday.  It turns out that the Babylonians are not just responsible for the celebration itself, but also one of its most popular traditions: The New Year’s Resolution.  So, what was the most common resolution back then?  Well, it wasn’t to loose weight or quit smoking.  Nope, year after year the Babylonians promised to return borrowed farming equipment.

Come on in!

A great tradition, although not so popular here in the U.S., is First Footing.  On New Year’s Eve families will invite someone to enter their home right after midnight, as it is thought that the first visitor of the year can bring luck. However, you must be very particular about whom you let cross the threshold.  Strangers are thought to be lucky, so some families may stop a passing carol singer, but friends or neighbors are okay too (and probably more common), just as long as they were not in the house at the stroke of midnight.

The “First Footer” will traditional bring gifts of coins, bread, salt, coal, and/or whisky, ensuring that the new year will be filled with prosperity, food, flavor, warmth and good cheer!!

Sealed with a kiss

Another favorite tradition is to ring in the New Year by kissing a loved one.  This particular tradition comes from Scotland, where the New Year’s Kiss caps off the festival known as Hogmanay.

Should old acquaintance be forgot…

Americans borrows another tradition from the Scottish: the singing of Auld Lang Syne. The popular poem/song that we know today is a version of the poem compiled by Robert Burns in 1788.  It is believed that, in addition to some original lyrics, Burns also borrowed phases in the song from a traditional Scottish ballad of the same name, written by James Watson in 1711.

The Scottish began to sing the song on New Year’s not long after Burns first published the poem, and this tradition soon spread to the rest of Great Britain.  Here in the U.S., the tradition can be traced as far back as 1896, but was really popularized  in 1929, when Guy Lombardo started playing the song on his annual radio and tv broadcasts.

We really dropped the ball on that one…

Of course, perhaps the most famous New Year’s tradition is them drop that beautiful, lighted ball in New York City.  Like New Year’s itself, this tradition has a rich history, dating back over 100 years.  To read more about the annual ball drop, check out today’s edition of By the Numbers, here on Constitution Daily.

There are many more great traditions, like football of course, (or, if you are a proud native of Philadelphia like myself, no New Year’s would be complete without watching the Mummers strut down Broad Street).  So whatever your favorite traditions this New Year, be safe and have fun; we’ll see you in 2014!