Happy New Year! Tracing the History of NYE Traditions


| LAST UPDATE 12/21/2022

By Elena White
New Years Eve History
Arturo Hernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images

With New Year's Eve just around the corner, we know exactly what's to come. Fireworks, parties, good food, and, of course, the big countdown. After all these years, it's a routine and tradition we hold so dearly in our hearts. But did anyone stop to think about how these NYE customs came into practice? Considering it is one of the most widely celebrated holidays across the globe, we can't help but be curious how it came to be so. Was there ever a time when the new year turned over without acknowledgment? We're digging into the history of New Year's Eve...

Tracing it back to the first-ever known New Year's celebrations, we arrive at 2000 B.C. in Mesopotamia. Back then, however, the new year was celebrated at the end of March in acknowledgment of the vernal equinox. The Babylonian festival, named Akitu, was religious in nature and included an 11-day celebration. The reason March 1 was the new year was due to the lunar-based Roman calendar, which had ten months. So when did most of the world start seeing January 1 as the new year?

Babylonian March New Years
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The January 1 new year is all thanks to Julius Ceasar, the brains behind the solar-based Julian calendar. From 46 B.C., the world began celebrating the annual turning on January 1 by offering sacrifices to the god of beginnings, whom they honored on this day. They also decorated their homes with laurel branches and gave gifts to their loved ones. When the day became a paganistic celebration, NYE was moved to December 25 instead. According to the Gregorian calendar, New Year's Eve is on December 31, as we know it today. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII installed this as the official calendar of Rome. Soon after, many other countries followed suit, which is now what most of the world goes by.

While it is celebrated all over the world at the same time, there is a range of customs that differ in each place. People in Spain like to eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes 12 for a lucky year. In Greece, Mexico, and the Netherlands, many will eat round cake. Those living in Austria, Portugal, and Cuba will eat pork to attract good things, while in Japan, they opt for noodles. Italians will eat lentils, and Americans like black-eyed peas. However you celebrate, we wish you a happy New Year!

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