New Year! Many dates and symbols have marked the waning of the old
and welcoming the new year, but the most difficult thing has been
getting a majority of us to agree when to observe the passage.
Early peoples associated the new year with completion of a harvest
and purifying of food that insured the continuation of life, so
the vernal equinox, or March 25 under the ancient calendar, provided
a common date for observance. Others used the summer solstice, or
some date deemed appropriate to their culture.
The Romans first used January 1 to begin the new year in 153 B.C.,
but several centuries were required to sort out the calendar, as
ordered by Julius Caesar, to make it appear more or less as it does
today. In the beginning, this was simply the first day when new
consuls took office in Rome.
clung to March 25 as their special day of renewal until Pope Gregory
XIII decreed the adoption of a new calendar in 1582 that accepted
January 1 as the appropriate date to commence a new year. Protestants
gradually accepted the same date—Germany in 1700, Great Britain
in 1752, and Sweden in 1753; even Japan and China did so in 1873
and 1912, for business purposes, despite its association with Christianity.
associated with the New Year included purging and purification,
extinguishing and rekindling fires, masked processions, fights between
opposing teams, and an interlude of Carnival—excessive drinking.
Many of those features survive.
At one time
the event featured the giving of gifts; in Rome and in Elizabethan
England, this was a kind of annual “tribute” to the emperor or king.
Eventually the Germany influence moved most of the gift giving to
Christmas. It was also a time for dropping by the homes of friends
who prepared by having buffets of food and drink ready.
A special feature in America has been the Tournament of Roses in
Pasadena, California, begun in 1886 by the Valley Hunt Club. The
first football contest associated with the day occurred in 1902
(Michigan walloped Stanford, 49-0), but chariot races were held
the next year, and the regular Rose Bowl football game did not begin
Long before our time America set its own “standards” for New Year’s,
many more associated with New Year’s Eve: Guy Lombardo And His Royal
Canadians “coming to you live from the Ambassador Hotel;” the falling
electric ball on Times Square; parties with dancing and champagne
at midnight; blowing horns and utilizing other racket makers; license,
almost a duty, to hug or kiss everyone within reach; and rigging
up some older man to look like Father Time to get booted out of
the way by a fresh bediapered youngster. All, in their way, celebrating
survival and expectation. Then, the next day, survivors watch football,
football, and football.
How will you
observe the passage? I can recall a New Year’s Eve camping when
we seemed to be the only living creatures on the earth, and blowing
the car horn that only we could hear; dancing and staying the night
at Hotel Fredonia in Nacogdoches;
a splendid evening at Cawtawa Mountain Lodge in northern Georgia
when the telephone crew from Atlanta set the pace and had more fun
than middle aged folks usually are allowed.
observe the day and its eve, be safe, and cheer for my teams in
the bowl games. You’ll know which ones—they will be losing.