The History and Traditions of Celebrating the New Year

TimesSquareHow did you ring in the New Year? Were you dining out on New Year’s Eve with loved ones, watching the ball drop in Times Square, watching The Rose Ball Parade and football on TV or enjoying a traditional family dinner with friends on New Year’s Day?

Our New Year traditions can be traced back to the Romans. Parties to celebrate the New Year were rowdy and boisterous with much drinking and partying. They probably are the source of the New Year’s kiss tradition. In medieval and Renaissance times the wealthier Europeans held masked balls believed to help purify the New Year. The masks that they wore symbolized the bad spirits; only after midnight could their masks be removed. After the mask was discarded, people were permitted to kiss. This kiss was a sign of purification for the New Year.

The song “Auld Lang Syne” is popular in many countries. A Scotsman named Robert Burns restored the song based on an old ballad and added some of his own verses. The song was first published in1796 after his death, and soon became a popular tune to be sung as the clock struck midnight.

A historical event occurred on January 1, 1863, which ushered in the New Year’s tradition of Watch Services. President Abraham Lincoln had warned the Confederacy that if they did not return to the Union by that date, he would release the slaves. They did nothing; so on January 1, 1863, his famous Emancipation Proclamation became effective. Americans throughout the country began the tradition of Watch Services, which was a celebration of that Proclamation becoming the law of the land. Today many Americans still gather in homes and churches as they did on that first “Freedom’s Eve.” They celebrate with prayers and joyful songs.RoseBowlold

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, members of an organization in Pasadena, California known as The Hunt Club arranged an event with their former friends on the East Coast. It consisted of chariot races, foot races, polo, jousting, and tug of war games. Because of the warm California weather and the availability of flowers, they introduced a pre-event parade in which the contestants decorated carriages with flowers. Later on, they added marching bands, floats and viewing stands. This parade grew so fast that by 1895 the Tournament of Roses Association was set up to organize it. Recently it has evolved to include computerized animation and professional float building companies. The Rose Bowl Football game was added in 1902. Today millions of people view the Rose Parade and football game which follows.Modernparade

Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, Alfred Oaks, owner of the New York Times building, began the tradition of dropping the New Year ball on a pole in Times Square, New York City exactly at midnight on New Year’s Eve.The original ball was made of iron and wood. It took one minute to descend down the pole, and arrived exactly at midnight. Today that ball is made of Waterford Crystal six feet in diameter and weighs 1070 pounds. More than a million people often crowd intoTimes Square on New Year’s Eve. They party as the celebration is televised throughout the world. No matter which of these traditions or any other your family celebrates, I wish you health, happiness and prosperity for the coming New Year!

Barbara Ann Mojica,

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