New Year’s Eve and Day Traditions

Why do so many people celebrate and party on New Year’s Eve?  What happens – apart from nursing a hangover – about New Year’s Day?  It seems like the traditions on these dates goes back a long time.  The first month – January – was established by the Roman Calendar and was named after Janus, a god, which is also the Latin word for door.  Janus had two faces enabling him to look back into the old year (and perhaps inspire him to make changes from his past actions) and forwards into the new one.

The Door Custom

In the olden days, the New Year started with a custom known as the 'first footing', which was intended to bring people good luck in the New Year. After midnight, people waited behind their doors for someone with dark-hair to show up, carrying a piece of coal, bread, money and greenery. These symbolic items were meant for good luck; the coal to ensure a warm house; the bread to symbolize everyone in the house having enough to eat; money so that no-one experienced poverty and greenery for a long life. Following this, the dark-haired guest took a pan with dust or ashes in, to signify the end of the old year and beginning of the new one.

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New Year’s Eve Today

Today it seems most of these traditions are no longer kept. People just party pretty hard, get a bit drunk and enjoy fireworks in most places.  In Great Britain at the stroke of midnight, partygoers traditionally link arms and sing Auld Lang Syne to remind them of old and new friends.  In New York they watch the ball drop and in San Francisco, the Waterfront Area is a very popular place to be at midnight.

Sylvester and New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is celebrated on the night of the last day of the year according to the Gregorian calendar. It is common for this evening to be spent celebrating at parties in which alcoholic beverages are drunk, with the climax coming at exactly midnight, when the old year is over and the new year begins. Many people even have a countdown to mark the changing of the year, and there are often fireworks and noisemakers to announce the transition.

New Year’s Day is the first day of the New Year, and is usually spent relaxing and recovering from the previous night’s reveling. There are often parades, competitive sports games and special entertainment which help to add to the happy atmosphere of the day.

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In many countries outside the U.S. especially in Europe, New Year’s Day is known as Sylvester. This is because December 31st, is the feast day of St. Sylvester. Sylvester was the Pope from January 31st 314 until December 31st 335. Although he was Pope at a pivotal time in history, there is not much known about him.