"Happy New Year!"
That greeting will be said and heard for at least the first couple
of weeks as a new year gets under way. But the day celebrated as
New Year's Day in modern America was not always January 1.
||Happy New Year
The celebration of the new
year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient
Babylon about 4000 years ago. In the years around 2000 BC,
Babylonians celebrated the beginning of a new year on what is now
March 23, although they themselves had no written calendar.
Late March actually is a logical choice for the beginning of a new
year. It is the time of year that spring begins and new crops are
planted. January 1, on the other hand, has no astronomical nor
agricultural significance. It is purely arbitrary.
The Babylonian new year celebration lasted for eleven days. Each day
had its own particular mode of celebration, but it is safe to say that
modern New Year's Eve festivities pale in comparison.
The Romans continued to observe the new year on March 25, but their
calendar was continually tampered with by various emperors so that the
calendar soon became out of synchronization with the sun.
In order to set the calendar right, the Roman senate, in 153 BC,
declared January 1 to be the beginning of the new year. But tampering
continued until Julius Caesar, in 46 BC, established what was come to be
known as the Julian Calendar. It again established January 1 as the new
year. But in order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had
to let the previous year drag on for 445 days.
Although in the first centuries AD the Romans continued celebrating
the new year, the early Catholic Church condemned the festivities as
paganism. But as Christianity became more widespread, the early church
began having its own religious observances concurrently with many of the
pagan celebrations, and New Year's Day was no different. New Years is
still observed as the Feast of Christ's Circumcision by some
During the Middle Ages, the Church remained opposed to celebrating
New Years. January 1 has been celebrated as a holiday by Western nations
for only about the past 400
Other traditions of the season include the making of New Year's
resolutions. That tradition also dates back to the early Babylonians.
Popular modern resolutions might include the promise to lose weight or
quit smoking. The early Babylonian's most popular resolution was to
return borrowed farm equipment.
The Tournament of Roses Parade dates back to 1886. In that year,
members of the Valley Hunt Club decorated their carriages with flowers.
It celebrated the ripening of the orange crop in California.
Although the Rose Bowl football game was first played as a part of
the Tournament of Roses in 1902, it was replaced by Roman chariot races
the following year. In 1916, the football game returned as the sports
centerpiece of the festival.
The tradition of using a baby to signify the new year was begun in
600 BC. It was their tradition at that time to celebrate their god of
wine, Dionysus, by parading a baby in a basket, representing the annual
rebirth of that god as the spirit of fertility. Early Egyptians also
used a baby as a symbol of rebirth.
Although the early Christians denounced the practice as pagan, the
popularity of the baby as a symbol of rebirth forced the Church to
reevaluate its position. The Church finally allowed its members to
celebrate the new year with a baby, which was to symbolize the birth of
the baby Jesus.
The use of an image of a baby with a New Years banner as a symbolic
representation of the new year was brought to early America by the
Germans. They had used the effigy since the fourteenth century.