Slices of Life: New Year Traditions

New Year's Day is perhaps the most celebrated holiday around the world. There's a universal appeal to newness, so the first day of a new year is a natural cause for a party.

New Year’s Day is perhaps the most celebrated holiday around the world. There’s a universal appeal to newness, so the first day of a new year is a natural cause for a party.

People have been celebrating the beginning of a new year for at least four millennia (or 28,000 dog years). Some of the first recorded celebrations were in Babylon. Then, the holiday was observed in March, during the first new moon following the vernal equinox. It was an 11-day celebration, making it New Year’s Week-and-a-half, as opposed to New Year’s Day.

During those 11 days partying and parading in the streets (as I’m assuming the Babylonians did) they made promises to the gods in order to earn their favor. Thus, the concept of New Year’s resolutions was born.

Julius Caesar gave a lot of deep thought to the concept of calendars and is credited with moving New Year’s Day to January 1 somewhere around the year 46 B.C. Romans celebrated by exchanging gifts, decorating their homes, attending raucous parties, offering sacrifices to Janus, who was the Roman god of beginnings, and of course wearing togas.

Different countries have different New Year’s traditions. Some are logical. Others not so much.


In some South American countries the color of your underwear is thought to determine your fate for the upcoming year. Red indicates love. Gold brings wealth. White signifies peace. Brown or yellow means it’s time to change your underwear.

In Switzerland they drop ice cream on the floor. I’d rather just eat it. Less mess to clean up and less waste of a good scoop of ice cream. In Siberia, people jump into frozen lakes while carrying tree trunks (and presumably wearing swim trunks). Sounds logical. Residents of Denmark throw plates at the front doors of the homes of friends and family to bring everyone good luck. Going barefoot in Denmark on January 1 would be bad luck. In Spain they eat grapes to ward off evil. I wonder if drinking fermented grapes counts.

Here in the U.S. we celebrate the new year with various traditions including waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square, popping a champagne cork at midnight, engaging in a midnight kiss, watching college football and staying up past our bedtimes.

Eating black-eyed beans is a New Year’s tradition in many homes, especially in the south. The beans are thought to symbolize coins and are eaten to ensure economic prosperity in the coming year.

We don’t eat black-eyed beans at my house. We make oyster stew. I think my husband initiated the practice. He likes oysters. I’d never tasted them before meeting him. Now it’s become our own tradition. In the U.S. it’s more common to eat oyster stew on Christmas Eve. I suppose we could do both, but I’m not sure we’re quite that fond of oysters.

January 1, 2017. We are ushering in a new year, with new possibilities. We tend to like things that are new. A new car. New phone. New house. New look. A new tradition - like oyster stew on New Year’s Eve.

I’m willing to try just about anything, including drinking fermented grapes, kissing at midnight and wearing bright underwear. All’s new that ends new, as they say. But I draw the line at jumping into a frozen lake with a tree trunk.

I’ll save that one until next year. Or maybe the next.

What To Read Next