By: Laura Crespo, Senior
New Year’s Day establishes January 1st as the beginning of a new year, but festivities start on the evening of December 31st or New Year’s Eve to commemorate the end of the previous year. Families and friends gather to party with delicious cuisine, drinks, and music. It is a joyful and widely acknowledge tradition around the world. But, have you ever wondered why New Year’s Day is celebrated? Where did it originate? Who began the custom?
According to AncientOrigins.net, a website that is dedicated to "reconstruct the story of humanity's past" cited by credited websites such as History.com, The Smithsonian, and other well known news media outlets, New Year festivities trace back 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. Babylonians considered the first new moon after the vernal equinox, a day in March with a balanced amount of darkness and sunlight, as the start of the new year. They performed several religious rituals that extended for 11 days to mark the occasion in a festival known as Akitu.
However, the Babylonians are not the only creditors of this celebration. As reported in the same article on AncientOrigins.net, the Romans also created their calendar based on the vernal equinox. The Roman calendar was developed by the founder of Rome, Romulus, in the eighth century B.C. At first, it consisted of only 10 months, but a later king added the months of January and February. As the centuries passed, the calendar was no longer in accord with the sun. Thus, Julius Caesar, in 46 B.C., reconstructed the calendar with the guidance of renowned astronomers and mathematicians. He instituted the Julian Calendar, which is similar to the Gregorian Calendar currently utilized by the world. Additionally, he also established January 1st as the first day of the year in respect to the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings. He is represented by a statue of a man with two faces: one that allows him to look to the past and the other to the future.
As described in History.com, Romans celebrated by offering sacrifices to Janus, exchanging gifts, decorating their homes, and having wild parties. Furthermore, in medieval Europe, Christians replaced January 1st with more important religious celebrations to mark the start of the year, such as the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th. Nonetheless, the date was once again established as January 1st when Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582. The Gregorian Calendar is determined by the Earth’s revolution around the Sun, unlike the previous calendars that followed the vernal equinox.
You may ask, how did January 1st became popular in the United States? Well, when Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, the British colonies in America automatically followed it. From then on, New Year’s Day festivities became a major component of marking the end of the Gregorian calendar and the commencement of a new year. According to USAfederalholidays.com, the U.S government recognizes January 1st as a federal holiday that marks the birth of a new year, and it has been a federal holiday since 1885. The release of fireworks and the ball drop in Times Square in New York City on December 31st have become iconic traditions that lead up to New Year's Day. Therefore, New Year’s Day and Eve are considered the most anticipated and biggest parties of the year.
Currently, several countries around the world celebrate New Year’s Day following the Gregorian Calendar. Yet, some cultures follow different calendars that have different start dates for the new year. For instance, as stated in the Australian free public media (much like the United States Public Broadcasting Service - PBS) SBSNews.com, the Chinese New Year and the Seollal or Korean New Year begin on February 8th. The Iranian and Balinese cultures mark their new year on March 20 and 9, respectively. Therefore, the reasons for celebration vary by country and culture. Festivities are created to celebrate the commencement or end of a harvest season, give gratitude for a fruitful year, or self-reflection and rest.
Overall, New Year’s Day is a prominent celebration around the world and there are different reasons as to why certain cultures celebrated. Nonetheless, it is a day when everyone can come together to appreciate the accomplishments gained throughout the fading year and to develop new goals for the upcoming year to improve their life.
Holloway, April. “The Ancient Origins of New Year's Celebrations.”
Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins, 5 Apr. 2019, www.ancient-origins.net/
Sivasubramanian, Shami. “11 Cultures That Don't Celebrate New Year's
Day on Jan 1.” SBS News, 4 Dec. 2019, www.sbs.com.au/news/11-cultures-that-
History.com Editors. “New Year's.” History.com, A&E Television Networks,
16 Feb. 2010, www.history.com/topics/holidays/new-years.
“New Years Eve: Is New Years Day a Federal Holiday in the USA?” USA Federal Holidays
Calendar 2019 | 2020 | 2021, usafederalholidays.com/new-years-eve-and-new-years-day.