New Year Celebration New Year's Eve and Day Festivities
Around the World
By: John Shepler
10...9...8... The lighted ball in New York's Times Square
starts picking up speed. 7...6...5... It's almost time. 4...3...2...
Everyone holds their breath for the last few seconds. We're about
to jump that seemingly large but invisible gap that separates
the years. 1...0... Happy New Year!
We made it. The old year, for better or worse, is gone for
good. The new year has begun with fresh promise. Here's our chance
to start again, to do it right this time, to have another shot
at success...at glory...at just accomplishing what we resolve
to. It's time to shed that baggage from the year long gone and
celebrate what can be in the 365 untouched days to come. Happy
We can trace the
origins of a new year's celebration back to the ancient Egyptians
and Babylonians, at least 4,000 years ago. In Egypt, the Nile
river signaled a new beginning for the farmers of the Nile as
it flooded their land and enriched it with the silt needed to
grow crops for the next year. This happened near the end of September.
The Babylonians held their festival in the spring, on March
23, to kick off the next cycle of planting and harvest. Symbolically,
the king was stripped of his robes and sent away for a few days
while the people whooped it up. He then returned in all his finery
for a grand parade, and the normal activities of life would return
for the new year.
So how did we get to January 1 as the start of the year? That
date was picked by the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar when he established
his own calendar in 46 BC. The Roman Senate had actually tried
to make January 1 New Year's Day in 153 BC, but it wasn't until
Caesar stretched out 47 BC for 445 days that the date we're familiar
with was synchronized with the sun. The Julian calendar is the
basis of our calendar today, although Pope Gregory XIII made
some adjustments in 1582 to improve its accuracy in the form
of the Gregorian calendar.
There must be something inside of us that needs to unload
the accumulated results of fate and our own decisions and start
anew. The Romans knew this. The month of January was named for
their god, Janus, who is pictured with two heads. One looks forward,
the other back, symbolizing a break between the old and new.
The Greeks paraded a baby in a basket to represent the spirit
of fertility. Christians adopted this symbol as the birth of
the baby Jesus and continued what started as a pagan ritual.
Today our New Year's symbols are a newborn baby starting the
next year and an old man winding up the last year.
Did you know that one of our favorite modern American traditions,
the Rose Bowl football game on New Year's Day, had only one season
before it was replaced by a Roman chariot race? The festivities
date back to 1897, when a zoologist suggested that the Valley
Hunt Club of Pasadena, California sponsor "an artistic celebration
of the ripening of the oranges" at the beginning of the
new year, similar to a parade he saw in France. They started
with a parade of decorated horse drawn carriages, followed by
athletic events in the afternoon, and an evening ball to announce
the event winners and the most beautiful float of the parade.
In 1916, college football competitions replaced all the events,
including the chariot races. Today we enjoy the elaborate Tournament
of Roses Parade through Pasadena followed by the Rose Bowl game.
In Florida, they have the Orange Bowl, Texas has the Cotton Bowl
and Louisiana hosts the Sugar Bowl.
Around the world, different cultures have their own traditions
for welcoming the new year. The Japanese hang a rope of straw
across the front of their houses to keep out evil spirits and
bring happiness and good luck. They also have a good laugh as
the year begins to get things started on a lucky note.
In West Bengal, in northern India, the people like to wear
pink, red, purple and white flowers. Women favor yellow, the
color of spring. Hindus also leave shrines next to their beds
so they can see beautiful objects when they wake up to the new
In Vancouver, British Columbia, Canadians enjoy the traditional
polar bear swim. People of all ages don their swim suits and
take the plunge, an event that is sure to get you started in
the new year with eyes wide open.
In Scotland, they celebrate Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year,
usually with great exuberance. Both Edinburgh and Glasgow host
street parties for 100,000 people. At midnight, there is the
celebration of "First Footing," where gifts are exchanged.
A fairly new tradition that is starting to spread worldwide
is a community celebration of the visual and performing arts
on New Year's Eve. Started in Boston in 1976, an organization
called First Night promotes alcohol-free festivals in 186 American
cities, 16 in Canada, plus Hastings, New Zealand and Greenwich,
England. Typical experiences include ice sculptures, dancing,
storytelling, theater, poetry, films and, at the stroke of midnight,
an elaborate fireworks display.
And then there are the New Year's Resolutions. You might be
interested in knowing that we also inherited this tradition from
the ancient Babylonians, whose most popular resolution was to
return borrowed farm equipment. We can only wonder if they were
able to keep their resolutions as well as we can in modern times...say,
Best wishes to you and your loved ones for a happy and prosperous