The coming of a new year is celebrated across the world with a variety of different customs and traditions. New Year’s in the United States is no different, and Americans have our own special traditions for commemorating the past year and “ringing in” a new one. If you will be in the US on December 31st and January 1st, here are some of the most common holiday customs you’ll encounter.
People have been celebrating the start of a new year for more than 4,000 years. However, the New Year celebration hasn’t always happened on the eve of January 1. In the west, early Roman calendars didn’t quite sync with the Earth’s actual orbit of the sun, and so they had to be updated occasionally.
It wasn’t until a reform by Julius Caesar that the Roman calendar came to closely match the length of our modern year. In 46 BC, Caesar’s calendar reform made January 1 the beginning of the year. Why January 1? The month of January is named for Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings, transitions, and time.
Times Square in New York City
The largest New Year’s celebration in the United States happens in New York City’s Times Square. Each year more than 1 million people gather in Times Square gather to watch a giant lighted ball drop at midnight. One billion people around the world watch the 12-foot ball drop on television. After a 10 second countdown to midnight, the ball drops and 2,000 pounds of confetti are dropped on the crowd in Times Square.
The Times Square celebration began in 1904 when the New York Times newspaper organized a huge party in the square with an enormous amount of fireworks. In 1907 New York City banned fireworks, and so the Times decided to create a 700 pound lighted wood and iron ball to be dropped from a flagpole. The ball has been lowered nearly every year since then, though the current ball weighs almost 12,000 pounds!
New Year’s Parties
On December 31st Many Americans hold New Year’s parties with family and friends. December 31st is not a national holiday, but in some states, schools, and workplaces people are given the day off. January 1st, however, is a national holiday, and so it’s common for New Year’s Eve parties to be some of the biggest of the year.
New Year’s parties vary from group to group and place to place. However, nearly all parties in the United States will show the Times Square countdown to midnight and ball drop. Then, at midnight it’s customary for adults to toast with a glass of Champaign or other sparkling wine, and for children to drink sparkling juice. Another popular tradition is to kiss someone at midnight. Superstition says that not kissing someone at midnight on New Year’s will ensures a year of loneliness.
New Year’s Resolutions
With the start of a new year, many Americans make New Year’s resolutions. These are often decisions to give up a bad habit or to start doing something new. Common resolutions are to lose weight, save more money, start exercising more, and quit smoking. Even though the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions is strong in the United States, enthusiasm for follow-through is infamously weak. In fact, about 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February!
New Year’s resolutions have been around nearly as long as the celebration of new years. Historians believe that the tradition began in ancient Babylonia, where people tried to earn blessings from the gods by promising to improve their lives in the coming year. Such ancient resolutions often related to repaying debts and returning borrowed tools.
All in all, the most important aspect of New Year’s for Americans is spending fun, quality time with friends and family. Whether you follow the typical American customs or not, the best way to get a good start to the New Year is with the people you care about most!