The History and traditions of the New Year

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 31, 2003

By SUE ELLEN ROSS Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – Traditions of all kinds abound this time of the season. Certain foods, particular drinks, and special family customs are some of the things that endure the test of time.

There is another unique event that continues today, although its outcome is usually negative – making promises to change personal behavior in the New Year.

There are no formal studies that support the fact that almost no one keeps all their declarations to do well in the coming months. Nevertheless, many people feel the need to list their shortcomings each and every year in the form of New Year’s Resolutions.

“We have to do this (make a list resolutions),” said L. Richards, of LaPlace. “I know I can’t keep them all, but it’s a kick, part of the holidays.”

His brother added that no one expects to be successful in this task. ” Who checks to see if we did everything after New Years Day?” laughed P. Richards.

The beginning of this long-lasting custom took place in ancient Babylon more than 4000 years ago.

At this time, the most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. This compares with today’s popular declarations to lose weight and/or stop smoking.

The celebration of the New Year, which, by the way, is the oldest of all holidays, began with the first New Moon after the Vernal Equinox. In other words, the first visible crescent after the first day of spring.

Spring was thought to be the usual time to start a New Year, since it is considered a season of planting new crops, blossoming and rebirth. Tracing the history surrounding New Years customs and traditions is an interesting story.

Romans insisted on observing the New Year in late March. However, different emperors continually changed things, and the end result was that the calendar was not in harmony with the sun.

In 153 BC, the Roman Senate declared January 1 as the start of the New Year.

January 1 has no agricultural significance or astronomical significance. It is completely an arbitrary date.

At this time, the Roman Church did not take kindly to all the revelry. They looked upon the events as pagan rituals. But Christianity blossomed after this time, and many of those early churches began to have their own practices to recognize the New Year.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the Church remained opposed to celebrating the New Year. Western nations have recognized January 1 as a holiday only for the past 400 years.

The New Year celebration in ancient Babylon continued for 11 days and nights. An individual theme was recognized on each of the days.

Many area families have their own traditions and ideas regarding the observance of this holiday.

“My family starts celebrating early on New Years Eve Day,” said K. Smith, of Destrehan. “Our family is real big, it’s hard to get everyone together at the same time, so we give them two days to come.”

Other national beliefs surrounding the New Year holiday continue as well.

The first Tournament of Roses Parade took place in 1886. The Valley Hunt Club in California decorated carriages with flowers to celebrate the start of spring. The ripening of the orange crop prompted this celebration.

The Rose Bowl football game was added in 1902. It was replaced with chariot races in 1903. However, the football game returned center-stage in 1916, and continues today.

Another token that represents re-birth is the figure of a baby with a New Year’s sash.

About 600 B. C., the Greeks celebrated Dionysus, their God of Wine, by showing off a baby in a basket. This represented the annual rebirth of that God as the spirit of fertility. Early Egyptians also used this same symbol.

Early Christians thought this was a Pagan practice. Nevertheless, the significance of the baby as rebirth caused them to think twice.

The Church eventually allowed their parishioners to use this symbol, recognizing it as baby Jesus.

Adding a New Year banner to the baby was introduced by Germans in the fourteenth century.

What you eat (and who you eat it with) at your first meal of the New Year is one way of predicting your future luck, according to many nationalities.

It was believed that ringing in the New Year with friends and family would bring a positive effect. To surround yourself with loved ones would bring a ‘warming effect’, ensuring this feeling would continue in the future.

Different cultures proclaim their own ‘good luck’ foods.

The Dutch believe that anything in the shape of a ring symbolizes, ‘coming full circle’, completing a year’s cycle. They consume donuts at their first meal of the year, thereby believing that prosperity will abound for themselves and their families.

Many areas in the United States believe black-eyed peas should be the food of choice for that first meal. Add some ham, since the hog is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity.

Another ‘good luck’ edible is cabbage. Cabbage leaves are compared to paper currency, showing a sign of good fortune. In addition, some people believe rice is the magic food for the New Year.

Finally, the song that everyone sings after the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve has its own tradition.

Almost every English-speaking country in the world sings “Auld Lang Syne”. Written in the 1700’s by Robert Burns, it was not published until 1796, after his death. The Scottish words mean, ‘good old days’, or ‘old long ago’.