Tradition, resolutions usher in the new year

Workers install panels engraved with Dick Clark's name on the Times Square ball. (Source: CNN)
Workers install panels engraved with Dick Clark's name on the Times Square ball. (Source: CNN)

(RNN) - In a couple of days, a ball will drop, corks will pop, toasts will be made, and resolutions will be declared and, in some cases, broken immediately.

New Year's celebrations date back at least to ancient Babylon - some 4,000 years ago. However, the Babylonians, as well as other ancient cultures, celebrated the new year on the vernal equinox. Thank Julius Caesar for changing the date to Jan. 1 to honor the Roman god Janus, the god of new beginnings.

True to Roman debauchery, they threw some extremely non-family-friendly parties to celebrate.

New beginnings are why many people make resolutions, especially to try to improve one's health, pay down debt, and be a nicer person.

"My family and I practiced random acts of kindness during the holiday season," Amy Mancuso wrote on WAFB's Facebook wall. "My goal for the new year is to continue with at least one a month. It's a little hope to offer in this crazy world we live in."

But before the resolutions are made, many celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another in a similar fashion.

In the United States, many of the New Year's traditions have been around for more than a century, even reaching back into English and European traditions - some of which are to usher in the new year with good luck or to ward off the bad.

The first New Year's Eve celebration in the United States was held in New York City's Times Square in 1904.

The New York Times moved into a new building on Longacre Square and the owner of the paper, Adolph Ochs, lobbied the city to change the name of the area to Times Square. To celebrate the newspaper's new digs, Ochs set off fireworks at midnight on New Year's Eve. After a couple of years, the city nixed the fireworks, so in 1907 Ochs hired a sign maker to make a ball to be lowered, and thus the tradition was born.

According to the Times Square Alliance, the ball was made of wood, iron and 100 25-watt light bulbs. This year, the ball weighs 11,875 pounds, is 12 feet in diameter and is made out of 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles and 32,256 LEDs. This year, Dick Clark's widow installed 288 new panels, one of which had her husband's name engraved on it.

The ball has had a bit of an upgrade since the first drop, and has spawned lots of "ball drops" throughout the country.

Another tradition Americans have celebrated has been Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve. However, Clark died earlier this year, and aside from missing the broadcast in 2005 because of a stroke, this is the first year since 1972 the new year won't be ushered in with "America's oldest teenager."

ABC brought on Ryan Seacrest to help Clark with hosting duties after the stroke, and Seacrest will ring in 2013 on Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2013. 

If you're celebrating at a party or watching the ball drop on television at home, you will probably attempt to sing the tune  Auld Lange Syne at midnight. " Auld Lange Syne" means "times gone by" and is a Robert Burns poem put to music. Singing the song was popularized in 1929 by band leader Guy Lombardo at a New Year's Eve celebration in New York City.

Celebrants are supposed to link arms and sing the song - but very few people know the words and those who are singing the loudest may also be holding up those who've had too much Champagne.

The Champagne toast to the good health and happy new year is similar to the 18th-century English tradition of drinking spiced wine, according to The History Channel. And if you've drunk enough Champagne to give yourself liquid courage to kiss someone, superstition has it that smooching at midnight will either strengthen your relationship with that person or that the kiss will keep you from being lonely that year

On New Year's Day, many people in the U.S., especially in the Southern states, eat Hoppin' John, a dish of rice, black-eyed peas, greens - usually collard greens, but mustard, turnip or any green will do - and sometimes bacon or a pig jowl. The black-eyed peas and greens represent money - the peas as pennies and the greens as dollar bills - and the ham or bacon are for health.

Other traditions that seem to have the theme of a clean slate include making sure all bills are paid so that the household has no debt and will enjoy prosperity through the year, and keeping a clean home, with no dirty laundry, and no garbage in the house.

Whether you toast to health, eat Hoppin' John, or watch some object drop on New Year's, good will and a good time seem to be a theme.

Just be careful not to overindulge. As Facebook user Dustin Masterson put it, "First I thank Jesus, then I thank God. Then I get drunk, and I curse Jesus, and God. I wake up in the new year and beg Jesus and God for forgiveness. Repeat every New Year's Eve."

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