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Before we ring in 2018, let’s get some facts about New Year’s Day


Photo by Swallowtail Garden Seeds licensed CC BY 2.0 

Another year is coming to an end. In many places around the world, New Year’s celebrations begin on December 31 and continue into the early hours of January 1. Before we ring in 2018, let’s get some facts about New Year’s Day.

The First New Year was in March

Photo by Eric Montfort licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

The city of Petra in old Babylon

New Year’s wasn’t always celebrated on January 1. The earliest New Year festivities date back about 4,000 years. At that time, the people of ancient Babylon began their new year in what we now call March. They would have an 11-day festival to celebrate the beginning of spring and the fact that crops were being planted for the coming year.

Who changed it to January 1st?

Mosaic of Pope Gregory XIII

Wikimedia/Public domain

The calendar that we use, which is known as the Gregorian calendar, was introduced 400 years ago by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. He declared once and for all that January 1 should be New Year’s Day. And since that time, much of the western world has celebrated the start of the year just like you do—on the first day of January.

How does everyone celebrate?

Here in North America, we often ring in the New Year by gathering with family and friends for parties, special meals, and spectacular firework displays. The big event is celebrated differently traditions around the globe.

Greek New Year Cake

Photo by underthesun licensed CC BY-NC 2.0 

In Greece, a gold or silver coin is baked into a cake, called a vassilopita. The person who receives the piece of cake with the coin inside is said to have luck the rest of the year. In Spain they eat twelve grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve to bring twelve months of happiness. While in Bolivia, families often hang small homemade dolls outside their homes for good luck.

Ringing the New Year bells in Japan

Photo by Asian Art Museum licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Over in Japan, at midnight on New Year’s Eve, bells and gongs sound to banish bad spirits. To leave the old year behind and welcome in the new one, the Dutch make bonfires in the street using Christmas trees. Portuguese children go from home to home and sing songs for neighbours. They may receive sweets and coins in return.

What’s with the fireworks?


Photo by Norbert Posselt licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Fireworks originated centuries ago and are believed to have been invented by the Chinese. They are said to chase away evil spirits and bring good luck, making them a perfect way to begin a new year!

Why do we make resolutions?

New Year's resolutions

Photo by BazaarBizarreSF licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Many of us make resolutions for the coming year. We promise ourselves that we’ll do something differently or better after January 1, whether it’s quitting a bad habit or getting better grades in school. But where did we get this idea of making resolutions for the New Year? It’s believed that the ancient Babylonians were the first ones to make New Year’s resolutions. They made promises to begin the year off right and to earn the approval of their gods.

What’s that song they always sing?

Auld Lang Syne sheet music

Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0 

The song that’s traditionally sung at midnight on New Year’s Eve is called “Auld Lang Syne.” Its title means “times gone by.” While the song is an old Scottish tune, a Canadian bandleader named Guy Lombardo is responsible for making it a New Year’s tradition. He performed the song at midnight at a New Year’s Eve party in New York City in 1929 and it was eventually broadcast on the radio and TV stations around North America for the holiday. Even though it’s become the go-to song every New Year’s Eve, very few people actually know its words!

Who celebrates first… and last?

A beach on the island of Kiribati

Photo by Nick Hobgood licensed CC BY-NC 2.0 

If you’d like to be among the first to welcome the New Year, then you’ll want to visit the tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati. It’s located in the world’s earliest time zone, so it’s always the first place on Earth to welcome a new year. As for the last place to ring in the coming year? That title belongs to American Samoa in the South Pacific Ocean.