As I grew up ringing in the New Year with my family, I wondered, but never asked, why January 1st is considered a holiday. When your parents let you stay up and watch TV way past bedtime, you keep your mouth shut and let the good times roll.
Now that I’m an adult and have children of my own pleading their case for late-night privileges, the tradition of celebrating the flip of the calendar has piqued my curiosity once again. Seeing commercials for New Year’s programs and store end caps already stocked with fireworks and noisemakers reminds me of my long-held questions: What’s so special about the start of another year? Why do people around the world hail its arrival with feasts and proposals, kissing and crooning a Scots poem? Besides providing an excuse to party, why do we celebrate the New Year?
A quick search at history.com reveals its origins, dating back four millennia to the ancient Babylonians who observed the first new moon after the vernal equinox (a day in late March when the amount of sunlight and darkness is equal) as the beginning of a new year. The date kicked off an epic eleven-day religious celebration called Akitu, which involved feasts and rituals celebrating the Babylonian sky god Marduk’s victory over the evil sea goddess, Tiamat. Later, Emperor Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar, similar to the modern Gregorian calendar used by most countries around the world today. Caesar at that time declared January 1 as the first day of the year in honor of Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, who had two faces allowing him to look back on the past and forward to the future.
One common thread runs throughout the history of New Year celebrations, from the time of the Babylonians and Romans celebrating and making sacrifices to their gods to our modern rituals of making resolutions and watching a giant bright ball drop at midnight. These New Year traditions we observe and pass on to future generations glorify hope. Though we can’t know what circumstances the next year holds, we rejoice in the possibility of good things to come. The potential for blessings flutters a blank sheet before us, tempting us with irresistible freshness. We grasp for it, convinced that this unknown unraveling of time will be better than what’s already transpired, and what’s ahead will finally make us happy.
Read full article at Morning by Morning.