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A Party for the Ages
By Starling Root
Before you start flittering about in a frenzy to prepare for tonight's festivities, breathe for a moment and reflect upon how NYE has been celebrated through the ages. It'll give you an excuse to, if nothing else, sit on your butt for a sec.
First things first, most of the world follows the Gregorian calendar, which replaced the Julian calendar on February 24, 1582. According to the Gregorian calendar, it's—check your phone—December 31st. That's not the case in the Hebrew or Hindu or Chinese or several other regionally prominent calendars, but, again, most of the world goes by the Gregorian for purposes of business and politics, regardless of religious affiliation. That means that New Year's is the one and only totally global holiday. (Did your heart just melt a little?)
New Year's was celebrated even before the Gregorian calendar was adopted. The difference was that New Year's occurred on dates other than the December 31st-going-into-the-wee-hours-of-January 1st. that we know today. The English, for example, used to equivocate March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciatio, with the first day of the new year. For them, January 1st was actually the date of the Feast of the Circumcision, the eighth day of baby Christ's life.
But who welcomed the new year first? The Babylonians, 4,000 years ago, on the vernal equinox, that day in late March where there are equal hours of night and day. Atiku, as the day was called, represented the conquest of Tiamat, the wicked sea goddess, by the sky god, Marduk. The celebration of the new year included a coronation ceremony for the new king, which was followed by a fantastic feast.
Fast forward a few millennia and Times Square first celebrated NYE in 1904. Why then? Advertising. New York's biggest street party marked the official opening of The New York Times' new headquarters. Before the bash, Times Square was named Longacre Square. But Alfred Ochs, the German Jewish immigrant who owned the newspaper, lobbied the city to change the district's name. (This was back when newspapers had big power and big money!) 200,000 attendees made the festival a major hit. Tonight an estimated one million folks will revel in Times Square.
Alright, you got your history lesson for the day. Now go out and elbow your way toward the cheapest champagne bottle in supermarket.
Editor's Note: Itching for more mental candy? We ran a story last year called Global Folklore: New Year's Eve around the World last year. You should check it out!