In most of the Western World, New Year’s Day is January first. To me that seems like an odd choice. That’s more than a week after the solstice and the start of winter and long before the start of spring. It’s not the birthday of anyone of special merit. So how did it become the start of the year?
The answer lies in politics, of course. Originally, the Romans started the new year on March 15. I assume because it was the start of spring, not because it is the day on which Julius Caesar was assassinated. In 153 BC, it was officially changed to January first because that was the day when the Roman consuls were selected. In much of Europe, the people continued to consider the first day of spring, or some other day in March, as the start of the new year until well into the middle ages. Gradually, however, Europe began to recognize January first as the start of the year.
New Year’s was first celebrated by the Babylonians 4000 years ago. The Babylonians celebrated for eleven days with different activities on each day. Ancient pagans often exchanged gifts on New Year’s day rather than on Christmas. The early Christian church condemned the practice as pagan, but later, turned it into a religious celebration as they did with other pagan holidays. The ancient Greeks started the tradition of symbolizing the new year as a baby.
Today, we generally celebrate with New Year’s Eve parties, resolutions (this tradition started with the Babylonians!) and remembrance of the year gone by via various television and radio programs and newspaper articles such as “Top Hits of the Year”, “Best Movies of the Year”, Worst blunders of the Year”, or simply “The Year in Review”. The Tournament of Roses Parade is another well known New Year’s Day activity in this country. Some young people think the parade is just the start of the Rose Bowl Game, but the parade began in 1886 while the game was added to the festivities in 1902. Some also make predictions of what the new year will bring. I like to read the ones in the tabloids just for a laugh. Notice they never run a list of how many of last years predictions came true.
I’ll add some stories about tradition foods for New Year’s Day in my New Year’s Day post.