As each year comes to an end, we look forward to the fun and exciting things that the New Year will bring. It is a chance to start fresh, to get a jump on things, to watch a big ball drop and practice counting backwards from ten to zero, to eat black-eyed peas, to watch parades and football and hockey, and to make the annual list of New Year’s Resolutions. As I sat down to write out some goals for the upcoming year, I got to thinking about why we make New Year’s Resolutions in the first place. It turns out the tradition goes back thousands of years.
In 153 BC Janus, a mythical king of early Rome was placed at the head of the Roman calendar by the Roman Senate. In the legend, Janus had two faces which he used to look to the future and the past. Since it was believed that Janus could forgive transgressions, many Romans would give gifts and make promises at the beginning of the new calendar year. Their belief was that Janus would see this and then bless their life for the entire year. Over the next years, each Caesar made his own changes to the calendar. The official date of the New Year switched from January to March and back again several different times over this time period.
In 46 BC Julius Caesar changed the Roman calendar in order to make it align more evenly with the seasons and to make further changes impossible. Caesar made January 1st the official beginning of the New Year. A legend began that on the last day of December at midnight Janus would see the past year and the next year at the same time. Romans began making promises to Janus on the last day of December in the hopes that he would see their sincerity and help them attain their goals.
Of course, over the course of the last couple thousand years, we have stopped worshipping Roman gods, we have built cars and iPhones, we have realized that the earth is round, and we have electricity and air conditioning. But the tradition of setting goals for the upcoming year lives on.
Here are some New Year’s traditions celebrated in other countries:
WALES – At the first toll of midnight, the back door is opened and then shut to release the old year and lock out all of its bad luck. Then at the twelfth stroke of the clock, the front door is opened and the New Year is welcomed with all of its luck.
SICILY – An old Sicilian tradition says good luck will come to those who eat lasagna on New Year’s Day, but woe if you dine on macaroni, for any other noodle will bring bad luck.
SPAIN – In Spain, when the clock strikes midnight, the Spanish eat 12 grapes, one with every toll, to bring good luck for the 12 months ahead.
GREECE – A special New Year’s bread is baked with a coin buried in the dough. The first slice is for the Christ child, the second for the father of the household and the third slice is for the house. If the third slice holds the coin, spring will come early that year.
CHINA – For the Chinese New Year, every front door is adorned with a fresh coat of red paint, red being a symbol of good luck and happiness. Although the whole family prepares a feast for the New Year, all knives are put away for 24 hours to keep anyone from cutting themselves, which is thought to cut the family’s good luck for the next year.
Until next time,
Today’s Fun Fact: Antarctica is the only continent without reptiles.