The history of New Year’s Eve celebrations

New Year’s Eve is one of the oldest celebrated holidays. First observed 4000 years ago in ancient Babylon, the celebration took place in March commemorating the spring equinox and lasted for 11 days. Romans also celebrated New Year’s during March until Julius Caesar changed the celebration to January 1 in 46 BC. Fittingly, the month of January was named after the Roman God of all beginnings, Janus, always depicted with two faces; one looking back to the old year and one looking ahead to the new year.

From primitive man to today, New Year’s Day has been recognized as a day to let go of the past and welcome rejuvenation for the New Year. Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on January 1. That’s how we came to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends.

Traditions of the season include the making of New Year’s resolutions. That tradition also dates back to the early Babylonians. Their most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. Popular modern resolutions might include the promise to lose weight or quit smoking. They are often made with good intentions and broken with a sense of humor and renewed annually.

Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes the end of the one year with the seamless beginning of the next, completing a year’s cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Day will bring good fortune. Many parts of the country celebrate the New Year by consuming black-eyed peas. Cabbage is another “good luck” vegetable that is consumed on New Year’s Day by many.

Although many countries celebrate New Year’s on the same day, each country has different traditions. In Southeast Asia they release birds and turtles for good luck in the coming year. In Japan, people hang a rope of straw in front of their houses signifying happiness and good luck. They believe it keeps the evil spirits away. Japanese people begin to laugh the moment the New Year begins, so they will have good luck the whole year. In British Columbia, Canada, there is a traditional polar bear swim, where people put on their bathing suits and plunge into the icy cold water.

No matter what your tradition is in celebrating New Year’s eve, I wish you a happy and healthy 2015. If you find yourself looking to move to any of the upscale communities of Santa Barbara, please call me, John, at (805) 455-1420 or my brother Bill at (805) 455-3030. Happy New Year!