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A History of New Year's Day

Celebrating a new year goes back to ancient times. The new year's day was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. Like other ancient cultures, the Babylonians celebrated the new year at the beginning of spring. This was most logical to ancient peoples, as spring signaled the end of winter and a time of rebirth. It was also the beginning of the planting season for ancient farmers. The Babylonians celebrated their new year for eleven days. Later, the Romans continued to observe the new year in late March, but by 153 BC, the Roman Senate set a fixed date for the new year and chose what we now know as January 1. The choice of date was somewhat arbitrary, but is now the used to celebrate the beginning of a new year around the globe.

The early Christian Church expressed ambivalence about New Year celebrations, as they were often connected with pagan rites and customs. Some New Year festivities were condemned by the early Church. As Christianity spread, however, the idea of celebrating a new year became less offensive. Some churches even set the date around Christ's circumcision and celebrated a Feast in commemoration with the event.

American celebrations of the New Year include the Rose Parade, and many local towns across the country have their own special parades. The Rose Parade can be traced to the Victorian era in 1886, when the Valley Hunt Club in California celebrated the ripening of the orange crop by decorating their carriages with flowers. Another New Year's tradition is the making of New Year resolutions, which originated with the Babylonians. The symbol of a baby to signify the new year was introduced in Greece around 600 BC. Early Egyptians also used a baby as a symbol of rebirth. And on New Year's Eve, it is common to sing the old "Auld Lang Syne" melody and kiss one's sweetheart at the stroke of midnight.