Dec 31, 2009

New Year's Eve

Rather than embarking on some useless and arbitrary list of my favorite things that happened this year, or even the decade... mostly because I'm a stickler for counting the zero numbered year as a 10 not as a zero. You don't count year zero, and 1980 was the end of the seventies, but I digress into a pointless discussion of semantics.

I've decided to look into the history of New Year's Eve rather than the history of the year.

I have found that the celebration of the new year on January 1st is a relatively new phenomenon. The earliest recording of a new year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, c. 2000 B.C. and was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox. That's right, in mid-March. A variety of other dates tied to the seasons were also used by various ancient cultures. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians began their new year with the fall equinox, and the Greeks celebrated it on the winter solstice. That's all over the place. New Year at the beginning and end of the growth cycle - and the Greeks with the sun cycle. Confusing.

The early Roman calendar designated March 1 as the new year. The calendar had just ten months, beginning with March. The first time the new year was celebrated on January 1st was in Rome in 153 B.C.

Now, the month of January did not even exist until around 700 B.C., when the second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius, added the months of January and February. Smarch never caught on. Lousy Smarch weather!

The new year was moved from March to January because that was the beginning of the civil year, the month that the two newly elected Roman consuls—the highest officials in the Roman republic—began their one-year tenure. But this new year date was not always strictly and widely observed, and the new year was still sometimes celebrated on March 1.

In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar that was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman calendar, which was a lunar system that had become wildly inaccurate over the years. The Julian calendar decreed that the new year would occur with January 1, and within the Roman world, January 1 became the consistently observed start of the new year.

But that was just too logical for some people.

In medieval Europe, the celebrations accompanying the new year were considered pagan and unchristian like, and in 567 the Council of Tours abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on Dec. 25, the birth of Jesus; March 1; March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation; and Easter. Lots of confusion. And if you celebrate Easter, it's based on the moon again. Silly Christians.

In 1582, the Gregorian calendar reform restored January 1 as new year's day. Although most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately, it was only gradually adopted among Protestant countries. The British, for example, did not adopt the reformed calendar until 1752. Until then, the British Empire —and the American colonies— still celebrated the new year in March.

Auld Lang Syne is sung, which goes back to the British Isles from the 18th century when guests ended a party standing in a circle. Riveting.

What the hell does that song mean, anyway? In the Scottish dialect, auld lang syne is "old long since" -- aka "the good old days." The traditional lyrics begin with, "Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind..." And the entire song's message merely means to just forget about the past and look ahead to the new year with hope. Or something. If you're Scottish, it makes sense. Even the rowdiest of parties has often ended with quiet drunks singing this song as a tribute to the past year, and words and meaning aren't really the top of mind when murdering this song.

The lesser known verses continue this theme, lamenting how friends who once used to "run about the braes,/ And pou'd the gowans fine" (run about the hills and pulled up the daisies) and "paidl'd in the burn/Frae morning sun till dine" (paddled in the stream from morning to dusk) have become divided by time and distance—"seas between us braid hae roar'd" (broad seas have roared between us). Yet there is always time for old friends to get together—if not in person then in memory—and "tak a right guid-willie waught" (a good-will drink). You've been Learned.

But it was bandleader Guy Lombardo, and not Robert Burns, who popularized the song and turned it into a New Year's tradition. Lombardo first heard "Auld Lang Syne" in his hometown of London, Ontario, where it was sung by Scottish immigrants. When he and his brothers formed the famous dance band, Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, the song became one of their standards. Lombardo played the song at midnight at a New Year's eve party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1929, and a tradition was born. After that, Lombardo's version of the song was played every New Year's eve from the 1930s until 1976 at the Waldorf Astoria. In the first years it was broadcast on radio, and then on television. The song became such a New Year's tradition that "Life magazine wrote that if Lombardo failed to play 'Auld Lang Syne,' the American public would not believe that the new year had really arrived."

Party City

Using noise makers and shooting into the sky to welcome in a new year goes back to ancient times when it was felt that noise scared off evil spirits. In Denmark, they "smash in the new year" by banging on the doors of their friends' homes and throwing pieces of broken pottery against the sides of the houses. In Japan, dancers go from house to house at Oshogatsu making strange noises and rattling and pounding bamboo sticks and banging on drums. In many parts of the US, fireworks and handguns are shot off at midnight to mark the new year. Don't stand on the top balcony. Your neighbor is an idiot.

And the old man or Father Time is the metaphor of the year that is coming to a close. Or is about to die, so obviously, a baby then becomes the symbol for the new year ahead. How cute, but he's only going to live for one year and then die off. Very sad if you think about it.

Probably the most famous tradition in the United States is the dropping of the New Year ball in Times Square, New York City, at 11:59 P.M. Thousands gather to watch the ball make its one-minute descent, arriving exactly at midnight. The tradition first began in 1907. The original ball was made of iron and wood; the current ball is made of Waterford Crystal, weighs 1,070 pounds, and is six feet in diameter. Yes, there's even an app for that: Waterford released a New Year's Eve iPhone app called "Clink-Clink." Jesus.

A traditional southern New Year's dish is Hoppin' John—black eyed peas and ham hocks. An old saying goes, "Eat peas on New Year's day to have plenty of everything the rest of the year."

Another American tradition is the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The Tournament of Roses parade that precedes the football game on New Year's day is made up of elaborate and inventive floats. The first parade was held in 1886.

And Americans love giving gifts to the first baby that pops out on Jan 1, but my accountant tells me to pray for a December 31st birth - so you can deduct the dependent on both year's taxes.

Resolutions anyone?

One drunk dude at the party said, "I'm never going to drink again." That lie caught on and is now the joke you make at the end of one night or the beginning of the next day.

Have a safe time tonight.

1 comment:

Capn said...

I'm going to make an elaborate lie to myself and others to change a habit I engage in. Within two weeks I shall continue my life as I always have.