A History of Celebration

New Year's festivities have deep roots.

| January 7, 2008

It wasn’t always about the ball dropping in Times Square or the throngs of folks gathered in Chicago’s loop. The new year was celebrated long before champagne had been invented to toast it. Then it was all about the return of the season of life

Some 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon, the new year was celebrated with the first new moon to rise after the vernal equinox. We can blame the Romans for moving the celebration to January 1. Julius Caesar cemented that date in 46 B.C. when he established the Julian Calendar as the only official date keeper.

Still associated with pagan ritual during the Middle Ages, New Year’s celebration was soundly condemned by the Christian church. As a result, most Western nations have openly participated for only the most recent 400 years.

Some New Year’s traditions observed in the United States, such as making resolutions, date back to early Babylon. Today we often resolve to lose weight or quit smoking; a Babylonian’s most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment.

The Tournament of Roses Parade dates to 1886, and the Rose Bowl football game was first scheduled as part of the Tournament of Roses back in 1902. The following year the game was replaced with Roman chariot races; the football game returned in 1916 as the centerpiece of the festival.

Several food traditions continue with each New Year’s Day. It has been thought that one’s luck depended on what was done or eaten on the first day of the year. This is what prompts many holiday parties to continue after the stroke of midnight, and why people celebrate the new year with friends and family. Folks also believed that the first visitor of the new year would bring good or bad luck for the rest of the year.

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