The Origin of New Year's

The Origin of New Year's


By Mary Emma Allen

New Year's Eve has long been a time of celebration, when people all overthe world welcome in the new year uproariously.  There may be singing anddancing, firecrackers popping, horns honking, and church bells ringing.This idea of a noisy time originated with the ancient belief that thiswould scare away bad luck and evil spirits.

New Year's Celebrations Ancient Custom

Celebrations of a new year has been traced to prehistoric times and wasrecognized in almost every part of the world, according toanthropologists' findings.  In general, in ancient societies, the newyear began when the harvest of food was ready for eating.

Only within the past 400 years has January 1 been celebrated widely asNew Year's, although in 153 B.C., the Romans first observed this occasionon the first of January.  Before that, March 25 was regarded as the startof a new year.

Gift Giving Important

Gift giving once was an important custom at New Year's.  It still is insome areas.

When I was a child, Mother always saved one of our Christmas gifts for uschildren to open at New Year's. 

I wonder if this was simply a carryover from a custom in her childhoodwhen her mother gave gifts at New Year's.  Or was it based upon somethingmy mom had read and decided to create as a tradition in our family.We children never questioned it, but simply enjoyed this as a happyoccasion for yet another present.

Early Gift Giving

In ancient Egypt, earthenware flasks were given at New Year's.  ThePersians exchanged eggs at the beginning of a new year, and the Druidsgave mistletoe, their sacred plant.

The early Romans gave a branch from a sacred tree as a gift to wish therecipient a good coming year.

New Year's Superstitions

Many superstitions have been associated with New Year's celebrationsaround the world and some are carried on today.  In India, rice wasboiled to bring good luck in the coming year.  In Spain, people startedto eat a dozen grapes at the stroke of midnight. In order to ensure goodfortune for the next year, the last grape must be eaten before thetwelfth stroke of the clock.

In Scotland, tall, dark, and handsome men were welcomed in many homes onNew Year's Day.  If they carried a piece of shortbread and lump of coal,they were greeted even more exuberantly.  For it was thought thesevisitors brought good luck, health, and happiness with them.

Pine branches decorated Japanese homes on New Year's and bamboo stalkswere hung on the gate posts with tangerines.  These all symbolize longlife.

Customs in the US

In the Ozark Mountains of the United States, hanging a new calendarbefore sun up on New Year's Day was regarded as bad luck.  Also, youshouldn't take something out of the house on New Year's without bringingsomething else back in.

Also in that region, if the first visitor on New Year's Day was a woman,supposedly bad luck will occur.  But having the first visitor a man wasconsidered lucky.

In the South, particularly Texas, eating black eyed peas for New Year'sdinnerbrings good luck to the household.

Luck Throughout the World

Throughout the world, whenever one celebrates New Year's Day and withwhatever customs, it's usually a day of jubilation and time forreflecting on the past and looking forward to the future.  What goals areyou looking forward to in 2001?(c)2000 Mary Emma Allen

About the author
Mary Emma Allen, who lives in New Hampshire,  often researches andwrites about historical topics.  She's also a children's author.  Visither web site:; 


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