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Celebrating the new year;br; a timeless tradition

Tonight, a few seconds until midnight, most area residents will join everyone else in the Eastern Time Zone in counting down the time until the New Year.

Monday, December 31, 2001

Tonight, a few seconds until midnight, most area residents will join everyone else in the Eastern Time Zone in counting down the time until the New Year. But it hasn’t always been this way.

Celebrating the new year is, by most historical accounts, one of the oldest traditions around. But the new year didn’t always come around at the same time.

Some time around 2,000 BC, Babylonians celebrated the new year at the time of the first New Moon, actually the first visible crescent, after the Vernal Equinox, or the first day of spring.

This mark of new year comes from a logical viewpoint: spring marks the planting of new crops, the birth of the new harvest season. January 1 has no astronomical nor agricultural significance.

The Romans continued the new year celebration in late March, but various emperors tampered with the calendar that soon become out of synchronization with the sun.

In 153 BC the Roman senate stepped in and declared January 1 to be the beginning of the new year but emperors continued to mess with the calender until 46 BC when Julius Caesar established what is now known as the Julian Calendar. This new calendar once again established January 1 as the new year. In order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar held the longest "year" on record: the previous year lasted for 445 days.

Some ancient new year’s traditions continue to this day. The use of a baby to represent the new year started around 600 BC in Greece.

It was the Greeks tradition to celebrate their god of wine, Dionysus by parading a baby in a basket, representing the yearly rebirth of that god as the spirit of fertility. The image of a baby with a New Years banner was brought to America by German immigrants who had used that symbol since the fourteenth century.

New Year foods are also a tradition steeped in history. Different foods were thought to bring luck.

Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes "coming full circle," completing a year’s cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Day will bring good fortune.

Many parts of the U.S., especially the Appalachian culture, celebrates the new year by consuming black-eyed peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. The hog meat is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another "good luck" vegetable that is consumed on New Year’s Day by many.

Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, representing paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year’s Day.

The song, "Auld Lang Syne," playing in the background, is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the new year. At least partially written by Robert Burns in the 1700’s, it was first published in 1796 after Burns’ death. Early variations of the song were sung prior to 1700 and inspired Burns to produce the modern rendition. An old Scotch tune, "Auld Lang Syne" literally means "old long ago," or simply, "the good old days."

In America, watching the ball dropping in Times Square in New York City is a tradition that kicked off in 1908.

No matter the culture, there are a host of ways individuals ring in the new year. So, enjoy new year because it only comes around once a year.

Do you know the words to Auld Lang Syne? If not, here’s a primer in the traditional New Year’s tune:

AULD LANG SYNE:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

and days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

and days of auld lang syne?

And here’s a hand, my trusty friend

And gie’s a hand o’ thine

We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet

For auld lang syne