By Kellen M. Quigley
With the new year now underway, we at the Ellicottville Times offer wishes to all for a happy and healthy 2019.
No doubt many of us have made resolutions to improve something in our lives, as the New Year’s tradition goes.
Although we have pretty set traditions in the United States on how to ring in the new year, the global history of the annual celebration is a fascinating one.
The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago.
According to History.com, they were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year — though for them the year began not in January but mid-March when the crops were planted.
In ancient Rome, the reform-minded emperor Julius Caesar tinkered with the calendar and established Jan. 1 as the beginning of the new year circa 46 B.C.
Named for Janus, the two-faced god whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches, January had special significance for the Romans.
Believing that Janus symbolically looked back into the previous year and ahead into the future, the Romans offered sacrifices to the deity and made promises of ethical conduct for the coming year.
In ancient Persia, the natives traditionally gave New Year’s gifts of eggs, which symbolized productiveness.
For early Christians, the first day of the new year became the traditional occasion for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to do and be better in the future.
In 1740, the English clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.
Also known as watch night services, they included readings from Scriptures and hymn singing and served as a spiritual alternative to the raucous celebrations usually held to celebrate the coming of the new year.
For millions of Americans, the new year is celebrated by watching the ball drop at Times Square in New York City.
The first rooftop celebration atop One Times Square took place in 1904 and was produced by The New York Times to inaugurate their new headquarters in Times Square and celebrate the renaming of Longacre Square to Times Square.
The celebration involved a street festival that lasted all day, which ended in a show of fireworks. More than 200,000 people were in attendance.
A few years later, the first ball dropping celebration atop One Times Square was held on Dec. 31, 1907.
In 1942 and 1943, the ball lowering was suspended due to the wartime dimout. The crowds who still gathered in Times Square celebrated with a minute of silence followed by chimes ringing out from an amplifier truck parked at One Times Square.
The original New Year’s Eve Ball weighed 700 pounds and was five feet in diameter. It was made of iron and wood and was decorated with 100 25-watt light bulbs.
Most New Year’s traditions are believed to ensure good luck for the coming year. Many parts of the United States observe the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck.
People in Japan eat toshikoshi soba, or buckwheat soba noodles, at midnight in order to say goodbye to the past year and welcome the new one. Dishes in Greece, Mexico and the Netherlands, among other places, feature ring-shaped cakes or pastries to symbolize the year coming full circle.
In Colombia, Cuba and Puerto Rico, some families stuff a large doll, which is called Mr. Old Year, with memories from the past year. They also dress him in clothes from the outgoing year. At midnight, he is set ablaze, thus burning away the bad memories.
Due to the location of the International Date Line, the country of New Zealand is the first one to ring in the new year. The U.S. state of Hawaii celebrates 22 hours later.
In nearby Sydney, Australia, one of the biggest international celebrations is held when more than 80,000 fireworks are set off from the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
However one marks the new year, we also express wishes that our communities and leaders can govern with wisdom and the spirit of cooperation as they attempt to find solutions and provide services that benefit us all.
Happy New Year to all our readers!