Sound in the new | The week

When we celebrate the arrival of the New Year, we are carrying on a tradition that dates back thousands of years. Here’s all you need to know.

Who started the New Year?

The early Egyptian, Babylonian, and Chinese civilizations all had rituals to mark the start of a new year. From 3000 BC. The holiday celebrated fertility and rebirth, and in addition to solemn religious rituals, it involved dances, feasts, and a prodigious consumption of beer. About 4,000 years ago, the ancient Babylonians held the Akitu festival for 12 days to celebrate the start of the agricultural season around the spring equinox. Statues of the gods paraded through the streets, parties were held, and either a new king was crowned, or the reign of the reigning king was symbolically renewed. The first Chinese New Year celebrations date back over 3,000 years; they were also linked to the spring planting season and started with the second new moon after the winter solstice.

When did the New Year become linked to January 1?

It started with the ancient Romans. When Julius Caesar reorganized the lunar calendar in 45 BC. year. (Previously, it was related with the spring equinox in March – a fact reflected by the names derived from the numbers of the following months: September meaning the seventh month, October the eighth, and so on.) The name January is derived. of Janus, who was the god of new beginnings, but also had two faces – so the dawn of the New Year was related to both looking back on the old and on the new. The Romans celebrated January 1 by making offerings to Janus and exchanging gifts of figs and honey.

Is January 1 still New Year’s Day?

Not everywhere. In the Middle Ages, the New Year was celebrated at different times, in different places and periods, most often at the spring equinox in March. When Pope Gregory XIII changed the Julian calendar at the end of the 16th century, his Gregorian calendar also set January 1 as the start of the new year. But the Protestant British, and subsequently the American colonies, resisted this Catholic invention, sticking to the Julian calendar and observing New Year’s Day on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation. This lasted until 1752, when the British and colonists finally relented and adopted the Gregorian calendar, and began to mark the New Year on January 1.

How did New Year’s resolutions start?

They have their roots in the very first New Years festivals. During Akitu, the Mesopotamians vowed to the gods to work hard, pay off debts, and return borrowed items. In Caesar’s day on January 1, the Romans would make sacrifices and take an oath to behave honorably in the coming year. In the Middle Ages, during Christmas week, knights laid their hands on a peacock and renewed their vows of chivalry. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, established a New Year’s tradition in the mid-18th century of renewing one’s commitment to God as a counterpoint to the more earthly celebrations in which others indulged. There are no specific markers for when religious resolutions have given way to vows to lose weight, drink less toddy, and engage in self-improvement, but a Boston newspaper article of 1813 contained what is considered to be the first documented use of the phrase “new year’s resolution.” He was referring to the “multitudes” who “will sin all the month of December” and then begin the new year with reforms they hope “to atone and wash away all their past faults.”

When did Times Square become a focal point?

The annual bullet drop there is literally a media creation. The seed was planted in 1904, when The New York Times moved its corporate headquarters from downtown Manhattan to Broadway and 43rd Street in Midtown. Attracted by a newspaper ad on December 31, hundreds of thousands of revelers took to the streets of the new Times building. At midnight, explosives were set off at the top of the building, “a funeral pyre for the ancients that pierced the very sky,” the newspaper wrote. The show was repeated for the next three years, until the city canceled the pyrotechnics. In 1908, they gave way to a 700-pound wooden and iron ball lit by 100 light bulbs, descended from the building’s flag pole, with loud shouts, horns and cowbells. Record the war years of 1942 and 1943, a version of the bullet – now a 12-foot LED-lit sphere covered in Waterford crystal – has fallen every year since. It’s an event watched by about a billion people on television, and attended by crowds that still mirrors the Times description this first year, when “the crush was so big that progress was nearly impossible in any one. direction”.

This article first appeared in the latest issue of The week magazine. If you want to read more, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine. here.

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