Guide to New Year's Traditions

Pretty much everyone is familiar with the typical New Year's traditions such as singing "Auld Lang Syne" and watching the ball fall in Times Square, not to mention the requisite New Year resolutions, but have you ever wondered how and where those New Year's traditions started?

Either "The Star-Spangled Banner" or "Auld Lang Syne" is the most oft-sung anthem in the modern world in which the majority of people don't know most of the lyrics. Next New Year's Eve, just take a moment to look around and see how many people are really singing after "Should old acquaintance be forgot;" chances are it's not very many. In fact, do you even know what the song is about as a whole? Yes, it's about raising a cup of kindness to long forgotten friends, in lyrics that were originally lines in a poem written by the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns in his nearly indecipherable native tongue.

Still, the reason why this song is a New Year's tradition has little to do with a Scottish poet and everything to do with an American bandleader. Guy Lombardo was the man who turned "Auld Lang Syne" into the official song to be sung as the clock struck midnight at New Year's Eve parties around the country. Lombardo's version was such a mainstay of New Year's Eve that it was once suggested most people in the country would refuse to accept that the new year had actually arrived until they heard Lombardo's band playing "Auld Lang Syne."

Today, of course, many might say the same thing about the ball dropping in Times Square. While Guy Lombardo may have passed on as a New Year's tradition, Times Square is still the final destination of more than a million live visitors and tens of millions others watching on television every New Year's Eve. The first Times Square New Year's Eve celebration took place in 1904 and consisted of a brilliant fireworks display. It would not be until 1907 that a wooden and iron ball, decorated with 100 light bulbs, was used. A century later, the new Times Square New Year's Eve time ball featured state-of-the-art LED technology. For a brief period during the 1980s, the lighting design was green and red to lend it the appearance of a big apple.

Almost all New Year's Eve parties can be expected to have a television on featuring live coverage of the ball dropping. Just as Americans before television grew up waiting for Guy Lombardo's "Auld Lang Syne" to arrive over the radio officially commemorating the arrival of the New Year, today's New Year just wouldn't be official without a New Year's Rockin' Eve coverage of the ball dropping.

Of course, the most popular New Year's tradition remains the New Year's resolution. In actuality, the only resolution most people stick with is the resolution to make a new round of New Year's resolutions, but, despite the failure rate every year, people seem willing to commit themselves to making new ones. The tradition of making New Year's resolutions traces back several millennia to the ancient Babylonians, or back to ancient Rome and the infamous two-faced king Janus. Considering that the earliest legend about resolutions goes back to roughly a century and a half before the birth of Christ, it's difficult to nail down the authentic truth about the origins of New Year's resolutions. The Babylonians had a tradition that involved returning borrowed items on the first day of the year, and the Romans also engaged in a practice of both giving and receiving gifts. What is known about the Romans is that their resolutions usually revolved around seeking the forgiveness of an enemy or someone they had wronged in the previous year. Today, by an overwhelming margin, the New Year's resolution of choice is to lose weight.

New Year's Eve is also associated with some myths, legends and superstitions. For instance, the tradition of a midnight kiss on New Year's Eve springs forth from English and Germanic folklore that states the kiss will be an indicator of upcoming luck in the next year. Apparently, this means if you were lucky enough to kiss the girl (or guy) of your dreams you'd have a really lucky year, whereas if all you could manage was a kiss from Aunt Hildegard or Uncle Nigel then your luck would probably not be so kind.

In the southern U.S., part of the traditional New Year's Day meal includes black-eyed peas because consuming these legumes was thought to bring about good luck. The black-eyed peas resemble money and indicate possible wealth for the next year.

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