We are in a new year, ladies and gentlemen. The previous has come and gone, and so most of us view 2013 as a new beginning, a fresh start and as the countdown sounded off last night, we began wiping the slate clean and jotting down a lengthy list of resolutions. But, does it mean this for everyone? And, where did this idea of starting over come from?

There are so many traditions surrounding New Years. No matter where you were, or who you are, we were all excited about the changes we were prepared to make, and, let’s face it, the massive amounts of alcohol we were going to consume. New Years is more than that, though. Perhaps it’s the adrenaline rush due to all of the massive lifestyle changes we’re readying to implement in our lives, and the hope that a new year can make us the person we’ve always been striving to be?

When we began researching the holiday, we found out that New Years is actually quite old and believed to have been first observed around 4,000 years ago, and as far back as the Babylonian era. At the start of each year, ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. This celebration lasted eleven days. Can you imagine if we partied for that long…?

Oh, sorry. Zoned out due to daydreaming.

The medieval period brought about a more valiant motive. The knights took the “Peacock Vow” at the end of the Christmas Season to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.

The Romans began each year by making promises to the god, Janus, for whom the month January is named. They continued this ritual, observing the New Year into late March, but their calendar was continually tampered with by various emperors and soon the calendar became out of synchronization with the sun. In order to set this right, the Roman senate, in 153 BC declared January 1st to be the beginning of the New Year.

Of course, tampering continued, until 46 BC, when Julius Caesar established, what has come to be known as, the Julian Calendar. New Year was again set as January 1, but in order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for 445 days. Could you imagine being forced to wait that long for New Years Eve?! We shudder to think!

The tradition of using a baby to signify the New Year began in Ancient Greece, around 600 BC. It was their custom, at that time, to celebrate their god of wine, Dionysus, by parading a baby in a basket, representing the annual rebirth of that god as the spirit of fertility. I wonder if there were parents racing to have the first New Years baby?!

There are expected to be more than two million people on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach to celebrate the arrival of 2013. A much greater crowd than that of the old days, when the local residents showed up on the beach every New Year to honor Yemanja, (The goddess of the Sea in Afro-Brazilian religions.).

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered along the banks of the River Thames to watch the spectacular firework display to bring in the New Year. One of the best fireworks displays we’ve witnessed, it was nothing short of a royal celebration, while the patrons watched under the “London Eye” a 443’ Ferris Wheel on the banks of the River and all of it triggered by Big Ben’s Chimes!
If you didn’t get to witness this extravaganza treat yourself by checking out this link. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20861403

New Years Eve or “Veille du Jour de I’An, is celebrated with ice fishing, alcohol and good friends in the rural areas of Canada well into January 1.

Vispera de Ano Nuevo is celebrated by eating a grape with each of the twelve chimes of a clocks bell and while making a wish. Houses are decorated in colors representing wishes for the upcoming year.
Red: Encourages an improvement in overall lifestyle and love
Yellow: Blessings of improved employment conditions
Green: improved financial circumstances
White: improved health

At exactly midnight in Austria, all radio and television shows operated by ORF, broadcast the sound of Pummerin, the bell of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, followed by the Donauwalzer (The Blue Danube) by Johann Strauss II, at which point everyone dances, even in the streets.

In Belgium, St. Sylvester’s Eve is celebrated with family parties or reveillons. On television, a stand-up comedian reviews the year up until midnight when the music begins and everyone kisses.

Bosnian streets are decorated and in the larger cities concerts are performed with rock bands that serenade the New Year. Children receive gifts from adults dressed as, “Djed Mraz”.

To celebrate New Years, Estonians decorate their villages and prepare lavish dinners. It is believed that each person must consume seven, nine or twelve meals on New Years alone, as the numbers are considered very lucky. It is believed that for each meal consumed, the person gains the strength of that many men for the coming year. However, meals should not be completely finished as some food is left for ancestors and spirits who will be visiting the house on New Years Eve.

Late supper is served featuring wieners and potato salad in Finland. A Finnish tradition is, “Molybdomancy” to tell the fortunes of the New Year by melting “tin”, (actually lead) in a tiny pan on the stove, and quickly throwing it into a bucket of cold water. The resulting blob of metal is analyzed, by interpreting shadows it casts by candlelight.

And, now for our favorite, the New Years Toast.

Where and when did this start? Well, it just so happens that it came during a New Years celebration by the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar. At that time, rulers were very leery of consuming anything that wasn’t tested for poison first, but tradition dictated the host lift his glass and drink first. So, the ruler would have a tester taste the wine in the back room. Then, a signal was made and the ruler was ready to raise his glass.

But, wine was unrefined and acidity was a problem back then. Because of this, the kitchen would toast off a piece of bread until it was burnt, but still able to hold up in fluid. The bread absorbed the acidity, making the wine more palatable. Rule of thumb, was the last guest to leave had to eat the bread floating in the wine bowl. (Anyone thinking this sounds like our Southern “hunch punch” of ole?!) Thus, the word toast was born. When the ruler got his okay to drink, he would announce that the toast was ready, then raise his glass.

Auld Lang Syne, translated is: “old long since” and means “times gone by”. It’s a Scottish song that was first published by Robert Burns, a poet in the 1796 edition of the book Scots Musical Museum. He made some revisions to the song after he heard an old man from Ayrshire, Scotland, singing it, but it was Guy Lombardo who popularized the song, when he first performed it, at midnight on New Years Eve at the Roosevelt Hotel, in New York City in 1929.

So where ever your from and whatever your tradition is, New Years is deep within our hearts. With the old, comes the new and with 2013, let us all remember to hold fast to the timeless traditions that remind us where it all began, while making room for the possibilities of where it can lead.

As for us, we will be enjoying a bowl of black-eyed peas, collard greens & ham-hock, with some pretty tasty pot liquor with family. Of course, Inion’s pot liquor will be via an Irish Whiskey bottle.

No matter where you live, remember to celebrate safely, taste the flavors of life and rejoicing in the love of family and friends. When you raise a glass, toast for good health to all, then seal it with a kiss. Whatever party you attend, enjoy the company of old friends, while making new ones, and whatever music you listen to, whether it be Guy Lombardo’s rendition of Auld Lang Syne, Johann Strauss II, The Blue Danube or a Rock band in Estonia pumping out the sounds of New Years Eve, don’t just listen, dance as a celebration of all that was and all that is to be and remember, with a new year comes a new start.

Inion N. Mathair