Celebrating the coming of a new year is one of the oldest traditions in human civilization, beginning in ancient Babylon some 4,000 years ago. Being one of the few holidays based on natural phenomena — the Earth does take 365 1/4 days to revolve around the sun, creating regular and observable cycles in the weather — it makes a great deal of sense.
It might make more sense to observe it when the Babylonians did, on our March 1, which coincides roughly with the beginning of spring, the season of rebirth and planting new crops. But in 153 B.C., after various Roman emperors had tampered with the calendar, the senate declared Jan. 1 the beginning of the new year.
Tampering continued until Julius Caesar decreed the Julian calendar in 46 B.C. The Western world and now most of the rest of the world have stuck with that date ever since.
And in a way, it’s rather nice to have a celebration in the dead of winter. It also works out nicely for college football bowl games.
The Babylonians also began the custom of making resolutions to improve oneself as the old year morphed into the new. For them, however, the most common resolution was not to quit smoking or lose weight, but to return borrowed farm implements.
For centuries the Christian church viewed New Year’s as a pagan remnant and disapproved of celebrating it. Then it started scheduling religious observances — the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision — on Jan. 1. About 400 years ago, Western nations adopted New Year’s as an occasion for revelry and merriment.
In America we tend to awaken groggily and gorge ourselves on the Rose Parade and football (or complaints about football), having overindulged the evening before in preparation for watching the ball descend at Times Square and/or enjoying waltzes from Vienna. Perhaps we give ourselves a day’s grace when it comes to resolutions about overindulging in the year to come.
In some countries people make bonfires of discarded Christmas trees or set off fireworks. In the first developed country to experience the new year because of the international date line, Sydney, Australia, has the world’s largest fireworks display.
Some people believe eating food shaped like a circle, symbolizing life coming full circle, will bring good luck. So the Dutch eat donuts.
If any of this seems a bit much, consider that the Babylonians had celebrations for 11 days straight, and the drinking was probably enough to put most modern revelers under the table in an hour or so.
However many times a new year rolls around, the need for love and the comfort of family and friends remains constant. Whether you spent Monday recovering, making noise or quietly contemplating your life, we hope the year to come is full of love, time spent with those you enjoy, new experiences, and solid accomplishment.