New Year festivities are synonymous with partying and bad hangovers nowadays, but New Year is actually one of the oldest celebrations. It is first recorded as a major event in Babylon around 4000 years ago. The Babylonians knew how to throw a party, as celebrations lasted for eleven days, putting our modern excesses to shame.
The Romans celebrated new year in March until Julius Caesar re-worked the calender to begin on January 1, although in order to do so Caesar had to make the year 46BC last 445 days. The celebration of new year as a holiday has been popular in Europe for the last 400 years. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII re-established January 1 as New Year’s day with calendar reform.
The ancient Babylonians can also lay claim to the practice of setting New Year’s resolutions. A popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment, a resolution many in the countryside today can say is still valid. Those hoping to lose some weight after huge Christmas dinners aren’t in luck. A variety of foods also play a role in New Year celebrations, helping to pile on those festive pounds.
Many cultures believe ring shaped foods will bring luck, symbolising things coming full circle. The Dutch, for example, eat doughnuts for luck. In America black eyed peas are commonly eaten with ham, and in Scotland shortbread and whisky are ubiquitous. Spanish people eat 12 grapes with each chime of the bells, and in Japan a bowl of ‘year-crossing’ noodles are eaten. Many people are adamant their resolutions to lose weight will start the very next day, naturally
In different cultures. events on New Years day can have an effect on the luck for the rest of the year. In many Western cultures the first visitor to the home, or ‘first footer’, will bring luck if tall and dark haired. In Scotland it is common for people to go ‘first footing’ around friends and families homes, having a whisky in each along the way.
Strange New Year traditions can be found all over the world. In Ireland it was once tradition to bang Christmas bread against the walls and doors to scare away bad spirits. In Colombia, Cuba and Puerto Rico a life-sized doll is filled with things that have bad memories associated with them, then it is dressed up in old clothes. At midnight, this ‘Mr. Old Year’ is set on fire.
Brazilians wear white clothes to symbolize peace for the coming year, and in Greece children leave their shoes out to be filled with gifts. In Scotland, New Year’s eve is known as Hogmanay and is a key party night across the country. Scottish poet Robbie Burns is also behind the song ‘Auld Lang Syne’, sung at New Year throughout the world.