The beginning of the New Year and the time to make New Year resolutions.
January was established as the first the first month of the year by the Roman Calendar. It was named after the god Janus (Latin word for door). Janus has two faces which allowed him to look both backwards into the old year and forwards into the new one at the same time. He was the ‘spirit of the opening’.
Resolutions began in ancient times. Farmers in Babylon would resolve to start life new, usually by returning tools they borrowed. Later, people who wanted to start the year on good terms without anything hanging over their heads would repay their debts. Now, our resolutions lean more toward promises to ourselves to do something specific during the year to come.
In the very earliest Roman calendars there were no months of January or February at all. The ancient Roman calendar had only ten months and the new year started the year on 1 March. To the Romans, ten was a very important number. Even when January (or Januarius as the Romans called it) was added, the New Year continued to start in March. It remained so in England and her colonies until about 200 years ago.
The Anglo-Saxons called the first month Wolf monath because wolves came into the villages in winter in search of food.
New Year’s Day:
New Year’s Day is the first day of the year, in the Gregorian calendar. In the Gregorian calendar, New Year’s Eve (also Old Year’s Day or Saint Sylvester’s Day in many countries), the last day of the year, is on December 31. In many countries, New Year’s Eve is celebrated at evening social gatherings, where many people dance, eat, drink alcoholic beverages, and watch or light fireworks to mark the new year. Some people attend a watchnight service. The celebrations generally go on past midnight into January 1 (New Year’s Day). In modern times, it is the 1st January. It is a time for looking forward and wishing for a good year ahead. It is also a holiday.
People welcome in the New Year on the night before. This is called New Year’s Eve. In Scotland, people celebrate with a lively festival called Hogmanay. All over Britain there are parties, fireworks, singing and dancing, to ring out the old year and ring in the new. As the clock – Big Ben – strikes midnight, people link arms and sing a song called Auld Lang Syne. It reminds them of old and new friends.
This custom comes not only from Native Americans, but from most nations around the world in its historic significance. The New Year symbolizes the beginning of new life, and therefore evil spirits tried to invade and usurp our bodies for their own purposes on this day. In some traditions, the spirits of the old, in other words dead, friends and relatives were invited to a feast on New Year’s Eve to say goodbye. However, the living needed to drive the dead back to the otherworld. Noise was thought to scare away evil spirits and send them back into hiding. Many of our traditions of today stem from superstitions of old. At midnight around the country, we can hear celebratory shouting, car horns, firecrackers, sirens, party horns, whistles, bells, and anything else people can find that will make a loud and boisterous noise. This custom comes not only from Native Americans, but from most nations around the world in its historic significance. The New Year symbolizes the beginning of new life, and therefore evil spirits tried to invade and usurp our bodies for their own purposes on this day. In some traditions, the spirits of the old, in other words dead, friends and relatives were invited to a feast on New Year’s Eve to say goodbye. However, the living needed to drive the dead back to the otherworld. Noise was thought to scare away evil spirits and send them back into hiding.
Baby New Year:
Another symbol of new life is Baby New Year. This tradition actually began in Greece when they celebrated the annual rebirth of Dyonysus, their god of fertility. They would parade a baby around the streets for the celebration. Egypt had a similar custom. Although American Christians thought these celebrations involving other gods was wrong, they gave in when people began using babies as a symbol of the birth of Christ, celebrated just one week before at Christmas.
The Door Custom:
In the old days, the New Year started with a custom called ‘first footing’, which was suppose to bring good luck to people for the coming year. As soon as midnight had passed and January 1st had started, people used to wait behind their doors for a dark haired person to arrive. The visitor carried a piece of coal, some bread, some money and some greenery. These were all for good luck – the coal to make sure that the house would always be warm, the bread to make sure everyone in the house would have enough food to eat, money so that they would have enough money, and the greenery to make sure that they had a long life.
The visitor would then take a pan of dust or ashes out of the house with him, thus signifying the departure of the old year.
It may sound crazy, but drinking is a part of the New Year’s Eve tradition that has roots in religion. It seems that drinking to excess and complete drunkenness represents chaos. This chaos is likened to the chaos of the universe before God created everything and brought order to everything.
At midnight, we drink to toast the New Year. When making a toast, people clink their glasses together in further celebration and revelry over the passing of the old year and the ringing in of the New Year. There are two things represented by the clinking of the glasses. First, we literally are ringing in the New Year. The ringing sound the glasses make when they clink together was, again, supposed to frighten away evil spirits. But clinking glasses originally started back in a time when guests regularly suspected their hosts of trying to poison them at dinner parties, often with good reason. To be sure their drink was untainted, it was expected each guest would pour a small amount of their drink from their own glass into that of the host. Both would then drink, the guest believing the host would not drink something he had poisoned. The symbol of trust was to clink the glass instead and drink without making the host take a taste.
New Year’s Music: Where Memories and Hopes Meet at Midnight:
In the United States and other countries, this old Scottish song, “Auld Lang Syne” is played when a new year begins. The song is about remembering old friends.
New Year’s is a holiday for memories and for hopes. The past and the future come together at midnight. Not surprisingly, emotions are as much a part of New Year’s Eve as noisemakers and fireworks. After all, a traditional way to welcome the New Year is to kiss the person you love.
“Old Lang Syne” lends its name to a modern song about a man and a woman who once were lovers. One day, a week before New Year’s, they meet again by chance. The singer is Dan Fogelberg and the song is called “Same Old Lang Syne.”