Did you know that Jan. 1 has not always been recognized as New Year’s Day? Back in the day – way back in the day - depending on whether you were Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Persian or Phoenician, you could have been cooking New Year’s dinner anywhere between mid-March and Dec. 21.
Britannica tells us that it’s Julius Caesar we have to thank for declaring Jan. 1 as the first day of the new year, and had he not tinkered with the calendar, we’d actually be older than we are! According to History.com, the early Roman calendar consisted of just 10 months and 304 days.
Today’s Americans who can’t read Roman numerals, or don’t know what a sun dial is and how it works, will find it amazing what can be done without an Apple watch. Somewhere along the way, like in 46 B.C., someone noticed that the Roman calendar had fallen out of sync with the sun. Smart enough to know his limitations, Caesar consulted with prominent astronomers and mathematicians.
The Julian calendar came into being with Jan. 1 instituted as the first day of the new year to honor Janus the Roman god of beginnings. If you’ve never seen a picture of Janus, he has two faces. One allowed him to look forward to the future, and the other to look back upon the past. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have two faces and I still do a lot of that looking backward, and with more frequency as I get older.
Ever the party animals…toga, toga, toga…I guess you could say the Romans launched the tradition of a New Year’s Eve bash. They exchanged gifts, decorated their homes with laurel branches and threw some pretty rowdy parties.
As for lassoing luck and fortune in the new year, it’s all about location, location, location. While black-eyed peas and cabbage play well here, if you’re somewhere else in the world, your luck may hinge on eating dozens of grapes, or pork, pastries, dumplings, noodles and rice cakes. If you live in Sweden, as my late husband’s ancestors did, your future rests on finding the almond hidden inside the rice pudding. That’s one nut you do want at your house for dinner!
As for making resolutions, it was those Babylonians about 4,000 years ago who started making promises to the gods to start off the year on the right foot. According to History.com, “They would reportedly vow to pay off debts and return borrowed farm equipment.” Hmmm, a barn inventory might be in order here.
Some New Year’s Day traditions which began in the United States include the first Rose Bowl Game Parade in Pasadena, CA Jan. 1, 1902, and the giant ball drop in New York City’s Times Square in 1907. But if you’re looking for something a little lower key, try the pickle drop in Dillsburg, PA, or the possum drop in Tallapoosa, GA.
This being my last column for 2022, I decided to dig deep into my Scottish roots to extend my best wishes for 2023. So, from my home to your home, Athbhliain faoi mhaise duit! Or in English, Happy New Year!
The column represents the thoughts and opinions of Connie Clements. Opinion columns are NOT the opinion of the Navasota Examiner.
Clements is a freelance reporter for the Navasota Examiner and an award-winning columnist.