Niagara Gazette

January 1, 2013

BRADBERRY: Should old acquaintance be forgot, or not?

By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette —

Wow, was 2012 a tough year or what?

I’m glad to see it go; so many tragedies, so much pain for so many; too much, way too much to bear for way too many, and, say some, this year could be even worse, though it’s hard to imagine how. I hope it will be better.

Of course, there were good things last year too, some great things. Beautiful babies were born, couples got married or happily got divorced, there were inventions, discoveries, reunions; a few people made a lot of money, and a few discovered that money, power and fame really aren’t worth much without good health.

Regardless of how Father Time may have treated you in particular last year, whether 2012 was a good year or bad, one thing is likely; you probably kicked off last year, and this one with any number of traditions, some so old that nobody is quite sure where they came from.

The tradition of celebrating the arrival of the New Year is the oldest of all holidays, likely first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago and is still wildly celebrated though differently, all over the world, our only planetary holiday.

According to some who have studied ancient history, somewhere around 2000 BC or so, the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon, or the first visible crescent after the Vernal Equinox otherwise known as the first day of spring.

Logically, the beginning of spring, the season of rebirth, and the planting new crops is a natural time to start a new year, not January 1, which is completely arbitrary, having neither astronomical nor agricultural significance whatsoever, but we celebrate it anyway; why?

Well, it’s a long story beginning, they say, with the Babylonians, the original party hounds; they apparently celebrated the New Year big time.

Now, the Babylonians knew how to party; their New Year celebration lasted for eleven days straight; each day having its own theme. They took the end of winter and the arrival of Spring very seriously by celebrating the season as the beginning of their New Year; they made the planting of fresh new crops a good reason to emerge from their winter doldrums, to reunite with neighbors, to forgive old trespasses and begin anew, refreshed.

Once the modern calendars were finally synchronized and adopted setting January 1 instead of the arrival of Spring as the beginning of the New Year the stage was set for a singular, world-wide celebration.

Suffice it to say that while modern New Year's Eve festivities, ball drops, guitar drops and internationally televised all-night celebrity-studded galas could not hold a candle in comparison to the length of the Babylonian feasts, they are getting close in intensity.

It is said that the tradition of making New Year's resolutions dates back to the early Babylonians; their most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment.

Some people still practice some of the ancient traditions whether they make any sense, or not believing that one could affect the luck they will have throughout the coming year by whom they are with, what they did or what they eat on the first day of the year.

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.

Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck.

• Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year's Day will bring good fortune

• Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the New Year by consuming black-eyed peas and ham

• Cabbage is another "good luck" vegetable that is consumed on New Year's Day by many

• Cabbage leaves, being representative of paper currency are considered a sign of prosperity

• In some regions, rice is a lucky food that should be eaten on New Year's Day

Other historic New Year’s traditions include Emancipation Day for some African Americans, New Year’s Day is sometimes called Jubilee Day. On Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing some slaves from bondage, was read in Boston. The uniquely African-American celebration, Kwanzaa, continues over seven days starting Dec. 26, so the New Year’s celebration is often part of Kwanzaa’s way of reconnecting people with their African roots. Kwanzaa began in the United States in the 1960s, and is not celebrated in Africa.

Today, though the original reasons for many of the ancient New Year’s traditions have been long forgotten, some remain, and some are being replaced by newer, bigger extravaganzas that will keep the world’s oldest, truly global international holiday hopeful, alive and well.

Contact Bill at bill.bradberry@yahoo.com