New Year’s Eve is one of the most celebrated holidays in the world. But have you ever wondered why it’s a huge deal when it’s really just another day in the calendar year? Read on to learn about the history of New Year’s Eve and find out how ancient civilizations across the world rang in the New Year.
The beginning of NYE festivities
The earliest recorded New Year’s celebrations were in Mesopotamia more than 4,000 years ago. The region rang in the New Year with an 11-day-long festival. These festivities occurred in mid-March, given that this was considered the beginning of the year at the time.
According to historians, Mesopotamians performed rituals to celebrate the victory of the sky god Marduk over the goddess Tiamat. They also used this period to either crown a new king or let the old king continue serving the kingdom.
New Year festivities in other parts of the ancient world
The Chinese New Year is still celebrated today, and historians believe it originated over 3,000 years ago. The celebration started as a way to begin the spring planting season on a good note. Many historians also believe that the Chinese were the first to use fireworks during their celebrations.
New Year was also celebrated in Ancient Egypt, where it appears the festivities corresponded with the annual flood. Ancient Persia celebrated New Year — called Nowruz — as well on or around the vernal equinox.
Why is New Year celebrated in January?
History tells us that the New Year wasn’t always celebrated on January 1. The Ancient Roman calendar, for instance, followed the lunar cycle, which meant the year would begin in March.
Sosigenes, an astronomer in Julius Caesar’s court, convinced him to start following the solar year. As a result, since 46 B.C., the New Year began to be observed in January. This was done to honor the god Janus (whom the month is named after).
History behind New Year’s resolutions
New Year’s resolutions go back to ancient times. Today, thousands of years after the earliest-recorded New Year’s festivities, humans still vow to start the year on a good note, whether that means exercising more or quitting smoking.
Ancient civilizations prayed for a sin-free life or a more bountiful harvest as part of their resolutions. The shift from religious to non-religious resolutions happened during the late 18th century. Thanks to the changing needs of societies, resolutions became more individualized, secular, and simpler.
New Year’s Eve traditions
New Year’s Eve is celebrated differently across the world. In countries like Latvia and the Philippines, the day is considered a public holiday. In Japan, New Year’s Eve is, in fact, a government holiday.
New Year’s Eve traditions range from chowing down a legume-based dish for good luck to eating 12 grapes on or right before midnight. Many people sing “Auld Lang Syne” at the stroke of midnight, while others stay up to make resolutions.