Different civilisations from across the globe have been celebrating the New Year for at least four millennia.
Today, for the most part, the New Year is celebrated on New Year’s Eve, which marks the end of the Gregorian calendar (December 31), with celebrations continuing into the early hours of New Year’s Day (January 1).
Most of us bring in the New Year by attending parties, watching fireworks, eating and drinking, however, early celebrations had a few distinct differences to our modern take on New Year’s Eve.
The First New Year Celebrations
In Ancient Babylon, some 4,000 years ago, the Babylonians introduced the concept of marking the New Year with a religious festival, which they called Akitu. For them, the first new moon following the vernal equinox (a day towards the end of March that had an equal amount of sunlight and darkness) marked the start of the New Year. The festival they celebrated was spread over 11 days, with a different ritual being performed on each.
Throughout antiquity, a number of civilisations started to develop complex calendars, which were often designed to mark important agricultural or astronomical events. For instance, for the Egyptians, the New Year began when the Nile flooded. This flooding also coincided with the rising of the star Sirius.
The Evolution of Calendars and the Concept of New Year’s Eve
Early versions of the Roman calendar were comprised of 304 days (ten months), and each New Year began at the vernal equinox. It’s believed the founder of Rome, Romulus, created this calendar in the eighth century B.C.
However, as time progressed the calendar fell out of sync with the sun. In 46 B.C, the emperor, Julius Caesar consulted with the best astronomers and mathematicians of his time to create the Julian calendar. His new calendar is quite similar to the Gregorian calendar that most of the world now follows.
It was also during this calendar reform that Caesar changed New Year’s Day to January 1. It’s believed he made this change as a way of honouring the month’s namesake, Janus, the god of beginnings. To celebrate, the Romans would offer sacrifices to Janus, exchange gifts with one another, and decorate their homes with laurel branches. They also started throwing big parties that are believed to be more raucous than ours are today.
January 1 was temporarily replaced as the first day of the year by Christian leaders in medieval Europe, as they felt their holy days like Christmas and the Feast of the Annunciation were more important. However, in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII reinstated January 1 as the start of the year.
Modern New Year’s Eve Traditions
Depending on where you are in the world, you can find yourself exposed to some very elaborate, very expensive New Year’s Eve celebrations that make bringing in the New Year with a bang easy.
One thing that’s consistent across the world is the presence of food and drink as part of New Year’s Eve celebrations. In Australia, we eat as a way of socialising, while in countries like Spain, food holds more religious significance. A lot of Spanish people actually eat a dozen grapes before midnight, with each grape symbolising their hopes for each of the months in the year ahead.
Fireworks are another worldwide custom. Sydney is known for its spectacular light display over the harbour, while New York is known for the ‘ball’ drop in Times Square.
The practice of making New Year’s resolutions has also been continued since Ancient times, with many people starting the New Year with hopes of achieving their goals. These can be travel or career or even health-related.
To help aid your celebrations, talk to Tudor House about our flags and bunting. We can help you create a wonderful and vibrant atmosphere to celebrate the New Year in.