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December 30, 2011 > New Year's Eve - not just another ball dropped

New Year's Eve - not just another ball dropped

By Mauricio Segura

Beginning December 31 and continuing for the next few weeks, "Happy New Year!" will be the most widely used greeting worldwide. As a holiday it is the oldest on Earth, but it hasn't always been celebrated on the first of January.

The first known observations of the New Year go back four thousand years to ancient Babylon; a time when festivals and celebrations revolved around astronomical and agricultural timetables instead of literal calendar dates. New Year celebrated rebirth and therefore fell upon the first new moon after the Vernal Equinox... the first day of spring. Celebrations lasted eleven days, each day focusing on a certain theme. And from what is known about ancient Babylonian celebratory practices, watching the ball drop in Times Square would have seemed a complete bore in comparison. Babylon was also the first to adopt the practice of setting resolutions and, judging by human nature, it's probable that they were also the first to break them.

In time, other civilizations followed with their own New Year celebrations. Ancient Egypt, Greece, Sumeria and a handful of others held their celebrations to coincide with the Fall Solstice instead of the spring. Romans continued spring observations but as emperors rearranged the calendar to suit their needs, it eventually became astronomically out of synch. It took the Senate to allow a year to extend for 445 days, adding two months to the then 10-month calendar, finally declaring in 153 B.C. that the New Year would be celebrated each January 1.

But not so fast... in the early days of Christianity, the church condemned the first of January as a pagan celebratory date. So once again New Year dates would shift throughout the year; in February and April. Finally, with the unified acceptance of the Gregorian calendar by most of the western European countries in 1752, January 1 once again became the first date of the year and has remained so for 260 years.

Today, midnight marking January 1 is celebrated across the globe. Millions of people gather in major cities and party into the wee hours of the morning, greeting the New Year with fireworks and/or special local traditions.

One memorable non-U.S. tradition is held in Greece where all the lights are switched off at midnight. The celebration continues by cutting and serving a slice of the Vassilopita pie to each person in attendance; one of the slices contains a coin. The person who finds it can expect good luck for the entire year.

In France, weather plays a big part. If the weather is sunny, the coming year will be good and happy. Breezy and overcast will, of course, mean difficulties and rain is something you don't want to see on January 1.

In Spain and many Spanish speaking countries, a grape is eaten for each of the 12 chimes of the clock and a wish is made for each.

In the U.S., Times Square in New York City has been the place to be since the first ball drop in 1907. Other cities have adapted their own versions, such as the peach in Atlanta, an orange in Miami, a liberty bell in Pennsylvania, guitar in Memphis, and the Space Needle's elevator in Seattle among many others.

Also in the U.S., it's not just the midnight celebration, but all day partying and cheering as well. Parades dot each town and major city but Pasadena, California is considered the primary location as it hosts the venerable Rose Parade. And, following the parades is another New Year tradition... college football.

So wherever you find yourself this New Year's Eve - in front of the TV or outside somewhere cheering with thousands of other frozen souls, or in a glitzy place with Dom Perignon in your hand attempting to remember the words to Auld Lange Syne - stay safe, have fun, and please, don't drink and drive.

Happy New Year! Cheers!

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