We celebrate the New Year on January 1 but it hasn't always been on that date. The celebration of the New Year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox—the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness—heralded the start of a new year.
It does make sense to start the New Year to coincide with Spring when nature is starting to bloom.
It was Roman Emperor Julius Caesar who changed things. The early Roman calendar consisted of 10 months and only 304 days. Over the centuries, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. Caesar consulted with mathematicians and scientists to solve the problem. He introduced the Julian calendar that would more accurately reflect the seasons than previous calendars and with that January 1 became the beginning of the New Year.
Why January? The Romans named the first month of the year after Janus, the god of beginnings and the guardian of doors and entrances. He was always depicted with two faces, one on the front of his head and one on the back. Thus he could look backward and forward at the same time. At midnight on December 31, the Romans imagined Janus looking back at the old year and forward to the new.
Although the date for New Year's Day is not the same in every culture, it is always a time for celebration and for customs to ensure good luck in the coming year.
- Time Square New Year's Eve Ball was first dropped in 1907. Then the ball was 700-pound covered with 25-watt bulbs and made of iron and wood. Today it weighs 11,875 pounds and is adorned with 2,668 Waterford crystals.
- The ball has dropped in Times Square every year since, except for in 1942 and 1943 when it was not lowered because of wartime restrictions.
- In Italy, people wear red underwear on New Year’s Day to bring good luck all year long.
- Many people ring in New Year’s by toasting with a glass of champagne. Americans drink close to 360 million glasses of sparkling wine during this time.
- The traditional New Year’s song, “Auld Lang Syne,” means, “times gone by.”