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New Year’s Eve 2018

Festivals & Events

New Year’s Eve 2018

It is almost 2019 and time for family and friends to ring in the New Year by celebrating, making resolutions and participating in New Year traditions that have been passed down for centuries.  Have you ever wondered how those traditions and celebrations began, and why do we celebrate New Year’s Eve?  We were curious, so we researched it, and this is what we found.

The ancient Babylonians were the first to practice making resolutions by making promises to pay off debts and return borrowed farm equipment to earn the favor of the gods and get the new year started off right.  The earliest recorded celebrations were in Mesopotamia around 2000 B.C. which took place in mid-March, because this was considered the start of the new year by their calendar.

The Ancient Mesopotamians celebrated with an eleven-day festival, performing rituals and celebrated the religious victory of the sky god Marduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat.  They also allowed the current king to continue his reign or crowned a new king.

As stated earlier, the new year was not always celebrated in January, because the Ancient Roman calendar followed the lunar cycle which had the new year beginning in March.   The early Roman calendar consisted of ten months and 304 days with the new year beginning on the first new moon following the vernal equinox.  This was a day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness which indicated the start of a new year.

Later, King Numa Pompilius added the months of Januarius and Februarius, but over the centuries, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun.  Consulting prominent astronomers and mathematicians of his time to help solve the problem, Julius Caesar decided to follow the solar year starting in 46 B.C.  The resolution was to introduce the Julian calendar which closely resembles the Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.

In reforming the calendar, Caesar made the first day of the year January 1st.  This was done in part to honor the month’s namesake—Janus, the Roman god of beginnings.  Janus had two faces which allowed him to both look back into the past and forward into the future simultaneously which made him a perfect symbol for saying goodbye to the old year and ringing in the new year.  

The Romans celebrated by exchanging gifts, offering sacrifices to Janus, decorating their homes with laurel branches and attending raucous parties.  Let’s look at some of the traditions that modern civilization uses to celebrate the new year.

In many countries, including America, New Year’s celebrations begin on the evening of December 31st and continue until the early hours of January 1st.  Celebrations often include meals and snacks thought to bring good luck for the coming year.  In many Spanish-speaking countries, right before midnight, citizens eat a dozen grapes which symbolize their hopes for the upcoming twelve months.

The New Year’s Eve feast in Cuba, Austria, Hungary, Portugal and other countries often include pork because it symbolizes progress and prosperity while lentils in Italy resemble coins and represents future financial success.  In the Netherlands, Mexico and Greece, ring-shaped cakes and pastries represent the year coming full circle. 

Rice pudding with an almond hidden inside is served on New Year’s Eve in Sweden and Norway.  Whoever finds the almond can expect twelve months of good fortune.  In Denmark, the traditional lucky meal boiled cod, kale and pork is on New Year’s Eve.  The custom in Denmark is to throw dishes at the neighbor’s door as a sign of friendship.

In the United States, we often observe the traditional new year’s meal on New Year’s Day.  It is most often a meal of pork, black-eyed peas, and greens, especially in the south.  The pork symbolizes wealth and prosperity because of its rich, delicious fattiness.  It also symbolizes looking to the future, because the pig roots forward.

The black-eyed peas symbolize good luck which dates back to the Civil War era.  During the Siege of Vicksburg, the town was cut off from all food supplies for two months.  During this time, the people were close to starvation and resorted to eating the lowly “cowpeas” (also known as black-eyed peas) which were reserved for feeding livestock.  If it were not for these peas, many of the people would not have survived; therefore, they are considered lucky.

Another black-eyed pea tradition is that you should eat one pea for every day of the year to bring you luck and prosperity, although not everyone eats 365 peas at one meal.  Another black-eyed pea tradition embodies putting a penny in the peas and the person that get the bowl of peas with the penny in it will have the best luck in the new year.

Greens, which resembles folded paper money, symbolizes wealth and prosperity.  Greens range from collards, mustard to sauerkraut depending on what region of the country or ethnic background you are from.  Combine your greens with black-eyed peas and pork to triple your chances of wealth, prosperity and luck in the new year for a truly Southern New Year’s tradition.

Other traditions that are common worldwide include watching fireworks and singing songs to welcome in the New Year as well as making New Year’s resolutions.  One of the most well-recognized New Year’s Eve traditions in the United States is the dropping of a giant ball in New York City’s Times Square as the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve.

Beginning in 1907, the ball has dropped almost every year.  Beginning as a 700-poound iron-and-wood orb, it has morphed into a brightly patterned sphere which is 12 feet in diameter and weighs almost 12,000 pounds.  Millions of people around the world watch every New Year’s Eve as the evening is celebrated with iconic live music and world-renowned stars in Times Square waiting for the ball to drop at the stroke of midnight and ring in the New Year.

Many towns and cities across the United States have adopted their own versions of the New York Times Square Ball Drop.  Atlanta, Georgia drops a peach; Dillsburg, Pennsylvania drops a pickle; and Tallapoosa, Georgia drops a possum at midnight on New Year’s Eve as other towns and cities have their own symbols that they drop.

Whatever your New Year’s Eve traditions might be, we at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Elliott Coastal Living hope that you enjoy them with your family and friends.  We are wishing you safe, happy and prosperous New Year’s Eve celebrations as you ring in the 2019 New Year.

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Theresa Skidmore

Theresa S. Skidmore, native of Loris, South Carolina, has a Doctorate from Nova Southeastern University and a Masters from the University of South Carolina. The mother of two beautiful children, Theresa was an educator for 40 years working in Horry County Schools for 23 years. She has two dogs—a Doberman and a Rottweiler—and loves to laugh, dance, read, play games on her phone, and spend time with her family.

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