• Posted Dec 26, 2003

New Year's Eve a nd Day Festivities Around the World

10...9...8...The lighted ball in New York's Times Square starts picking up speed. 7...6...5... It's almost time. 4...3...2... Everyone holds their breath for the last few seconds. We're about to jump that seemingly large but invisible gap that separates the years. 1...0... Happy New Year! We made it. The old year, for better or worse, is gone for good. The new year has begun with fresh promise. Here's our chance to start again, to do it right this time, to have another shot at just accomplishing what we resolve to. It's time to shed that baggage from the year long gone and celebrate what can be in the 365 untouched days to come. Happy New Year! We can trace the origins of a new year's celebration back to the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, at least 4,000 years ago. In Egypt, the Nile river signaled a new beginning for the farmers of the Nile as it flooded their land and enriched it with the silt needed to grow crops for the next year. This happened near the end of September. The Babylonians held their festival in the spring, on March 23, to kick off the next cycle of planting and harvest. Symbolically, the king was stripped of his robes and sent away for a few days while the people whooped it up. He then returned in all his finery for a grand parade, and the normal activities of life would return for the new year. So how did we get to January 1 as the start of the year? That date was picked by the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar when he established his own calendar in 46 BC. The Roman Senate had actually tried to make January 1 New Year's Day in 153 BC, but it wasn't until Caesar stretched out 47 BC for 445 days that the date we're familiar with was synchronized with the sun. We've been on the Julian calendar ever since. There must be something inside of us that needs to unload the accumulated results of fate and our own decisions and start anew. The Romans knew this. The month of January was named for their god, Janus, who is pictured with two heads. One looks forward, the other back, symbolizing a break between the old and new. The Greeks paraded a baby in a basket to represent the spirit of fertility. Christians adopted this symbol as the birth of the baby Jesus and continued what started as a pagan ritual. Today our New Year's symbols are a newborn baby starting the next year and an old man winding up the last year. Did you know that one of our favorite modern American traditions, the Rose Bowl football game on New Year's Day, had only one season before it was replaced by a Roman chariot race? The festivities date back to 1897, when a zoologist suggested that the Valley Hunt Club of Pasadena, California sponsor "an artistic celebration of the ripening of the oranges" at the beginning of the new year, similar to a parade he saw in France. They started with a parade of decorated horse drawn carriages, followed by athletic events in the afternoon, and an evening ball to announce the event winners and the most beautiful float of the parade. In 1916, college football competitions replaced all the events, including the chariot races. Today we enjoy the elaborate Tournament of Roses Parade through Pasadena followed by the Rose Bowl game. In Florida, they have the Orange Bowl, Texas has the Cotton Bowl and Louisiana hosts the Sugar Bowl. Around the world, different cultures have their own traditions for welcoming the new year. The Japanese hang a rope of straw across the front of their houses to keep out evil spirits and bring happiness and good luck. They also have a good laugh as the year begins to get things started on a lucky note. In West Bengal, in northern India, the people like to wear pink, red, purple and white flowers. Women favor yellow, the color of spring. Hindus also leave shrines next to their beds so they can see beautiful objects when they wake up to the new year. In Vancouver, British Columbia, Canadians enjoy the traditional polar bear swim. People of all ages don their swim suits and take the plunge, an event that is sure to get you started in the new year with eyes wide open. A fairly new tradition that is starting to spread worldwide is a community celebration of the visual and performing arts on New Year's Eve. Started in Boston in 1976, an organization called First Night promotes alcohol-free festivals in 186 American cities, 16 in Canada, plus Hastings, New Zealand and Greenwich, England. Typical experiences include ice sculptures, dancing, storytelling, theater, poetry, films and, at the stroke of midnight, an elaborate fireworks display. And then there are the New Year's Resolutions. You might be interested in knowing that we also inherited this tradition from the ancient Babylonians, whose most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. We can only wonder if they were able to keep their resolutions as well as we can in modern times...say, until February? Best wishes to you and your loved ones for a happy and prosperous New Year!

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