By Marion Algier – The War on Christmas (and religion) verses the Spirit of Christmas Series at AskMarion – 31
New Year’s Eve brings to mind fireworks, champagne, parties, singing, resolutions and the Rose Parade. But there is more to New Year’s Eve than just that. It is a day rich in history that is mostly unknown to American society.
Over 4,000 years ago, the ancient Babylonians celebrated the New Year in late March following the vernal equinox – a day with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness.
The New Year was marked with an 11-day religious festival called Akitu, which also honored the mythical political victory of Marduk, the Babylonian sky god over Tiamat, an evil sea goddess. During this festival time, a new king was crowned or the current ruler was symbolically reinstated.
The early Romans also celebrated the New Year in March, since the calendar was 10 months and 304 days long. And like the Babylonians, the Romans also based their New Year on the vernal equinox.
According to history, Romulus, the founder of Rome, created the calendar in the eighth century BC. Then Roman King Numa Pontilius added January and February in 153 BC to the calendar in honor of two Roman consuls.
Although the New Year technically fell on January 1st, many Romans continued celebrating it on March 1 until 46 BC until Julius Caesar introduced an accurate solar-based calendar showing Jan. 1 as the beginning of the New Year. So, for the first time, Romans began universally celebrating the New Year in January, until 567 when the European Council of Tours abolished the holiday declaring New Year’s festivities as pagan ceremonies.
Throughout the centuries in Christian Europe, the New Year holiday was celebrated on several dates including Dec. 25, March 1, March 25, Easter and the Feast of the Annunciation. Then Finally, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII restored January 1st as New Year’s Day. Most Catholic countries adopted the holiday almost immediately, but Protestant-based countries, like England, waited until later to follow suit.
Dropping of the Ball
The dropping of the ball at Times Square on New Year’s Eve is one of the most recognizable and American traditions The “time ball” was first designed to imitate the United States Naval Observatory practice of lowering a ball and flag to signal noontime.
The ball drop, descending 141 feet in 60 seconds, at Times Square was organized by New York Times owner Adolph Ochs in 1907. It started off as a solution to light up the New York sky without the hazards of fireworks.
The first ball was a 700-pound iron and wood ball covered in 100 25-watt light bulbs, designed by Artkraft Strauss. Today, the ball is significantly heavier and covered in Waterford crystals.
Since 1907, excluding the 1942 and 1943 wartime “dim outs”, people have gathered in Times Square to watch the infamous ball drop to ring in the New Year and millions, if not billions, more watch it on TV around the world.
Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment developed a new LED-lit ball in 2007 to celebrate the event’s 100th anniversary.
Then in 2009, the new 12-foot – 12,000-pound ball was weatherproofed and now remains displayed atop Times Square year-round.
Photo by Greg Kessler
Auld Lang Syne
Another New Years tradition is the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” as the clock strikes midnight.
Poet Robert Burns wrote the poem after hearing an old man singing it in his hometown of the Ayrshire area of Scotland. The song was set to a traditional folk tune.
Burns refined some of the lyrics before sending it out to publishers in 1788. The poem was finally published in the December1796 book, “Scots Musical Museum,” five months after Burns died.
The most memorable verses: “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” and the chorus, “For auld Lang Syne, my dear, for auld Lang Syne, we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld Lang Syne,” are oft’ described as reminders of “the good old times” amidst new beginnings.
A manuscript of “Auld Lang Syne” can be found at the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Indiana.
Tournament of Roses Parade
Just like millions gather to watch the ball drop in NYC, as well as on television, such is also the case with the Rose Parade on America’s opposite coast. People camp out the night before and spend their New Year’s Eve with family as well as new and old friends on the streets of Pasadena to have a good seat and view of the Rose Parade on New Year’s morning.
This year the ‘Miracle’ dog, Daniel, that survived gassing is headed to the Rose Parade. Daniel will be among eight shelter dogs riding on a float in the 2014 parade.
Many people continue to observe the original New Year’s traditions, but as time passes new traditions are continuously added.
There are some great books out for Christmas this year: ‘Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas’ (Kindle), The Romney Family Table: Sharing Home-Cooked Recipes & Favorite Traditions (Kindle) and Dear Chandler, Dear Scarlett: A Grandfather’s Thoughts on Faith, Family, and the Things That Matter Most (Kindle) Plus: Losing Our Religion(Kindle) by atheist S. E. Cupp, The United States vs. Santa Claus: The Untold Story of the Actual War on Christmas (Kindle) and Culture Warrior (Kindle)