Did you ever wonder why we celebrate New Year’s Eve on December 31? The easy answer is that it’s the last calendar day of the year, but the whole answer isn’t quite that simple.
Early New Year’s celebrations
Folks have been celebrating the changing of the year for millennia. There are actually recorded events commemorating the new year in ancient Babylon.
The Babylonians’ celebration took place in late March in order to coincide with the first new moon of the vernal equinox. This seemed like a fitting day to celebrate the new year, as there were equal amounts of light and dark on that day.
As time progressed other cultures adopted the practice of heralding in a new year. The celebrations generally took place to commemorate an agricultural or astronomical event.
As cultures began to become increasingly civilized, calendars began to change. The early Roman calendar only had 304 days, which were broken into 10 months.
In the eighth century, king Numa Pompilius added two additional months, an action which slowly caused the calendar to fall out of synch with the sun. Julius Caesar ultimately solved this problem. He consulted prominent astrologers and mathematicians of the era and they created a new calendar. It’s that calendar that instituted January 1 as the first day of the year.
During medieval times, the date for the new year changed by Christian leaders in order to have it coincide with religious holidays. However, Pope Gregory XIII changed it back to January 1 in 1582.
In current times many people ring in the new year by starting their celebrations on December 31 and continuing until the early hours of January 1.
Most folks enjoy food and drinks as they say good-bye to the old year and hello to the new one. Celebrators in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries eat a dozen grapes that symbolize their hopes for the coming months at midnight.
In other parts of the world, people eat legumes that symbolize future financial success. Some people make sure to eat pork because they represent progress and prosperity.
The tradition of making resolutions for the new year started with the Babylonians. They would make promises to the gods in hopes of having a prosperous year. The tradition of making resolutions continues today.
It’s unknown if the Babylonians were any better at keeping their resolutions for a longer period of time than out culture tends to be.
One of the most storied traditions in the U.S. is the annual midnight ball-drop in New York City’s Time’s Square. The event has been taking place since 1907 and is currently televised around the world. Other cities have followed suit and have their own version of the ball drop to bring in the New Year.