Life Hope & Truth

From the November/December 2017 issue of Discern Magazine

The Roots and Fruits of New Year’s Eve

Some of the customs may seem crazy or quaint, but what are the real origins and results of the New Year’s holiday?

Listen to this article
Download

I admit it. I have been up at midnight on New Year’s Eve a few times. Not celebrating exactly. In fact, most of those times I was part of a volunteer security force on the campus where I went to college—which happened to be along the Rose Parade route in Pasadena, California.

Our job was to be alert to criminals, vandals and even people camping out along the parade route and searching for anything they could burn to keep warm. You might be surprised that it gets fairly cool in January in Southern California. Of course, it is much warmer there than in New York’s Times Square (where it averages 33.7 degrees Fahrenheit at midnight) and other northern gathering places where people count down to the new Roman year.

It makes you wonder: How did New Year’s Eve come to be celebrated in the winter and at midnight? Blame it on the ancient Romans.

Julius Caesar, the calendar fixer

Many ancient societies began their new year in the spring. But by the time of Julius Caesar, the Roman calendar was off. Way off. To get the calendar to line up with the seasons, Caesar had to add 90 days!

History.com explains, “Over the centuries, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. the emperor Julius Caesar decided to solve the problem by consulting with the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of his time. He introduced the Julian calendar, which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.

“As part of his reform, Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honor the month’s namesake: Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future. Romans celebrated by offering sacrifices to Janus, exchanging gifts with one another, decorating their homes with laurel branches and attending raucous parties.”

Beliefnet.com also notes that New Year’s is associated with the winter solstice and is “an ancient holiday with deep spiritual roots. … Ancient Romans celebrated with six days of carousing that would probably be familiar to us today.”

Customs and superstitions

From its ancient origins, a wide variety of traditions and superstitions have developed around the world. Here is just a sampling.

“In Ecuador, people make dummies, stuffed with straw, to represent the events [and people, such as politicians and pop culture icons] of the past year. These ‘[año] viejo’ effigies are burned at midnight, thus symbolically getting rid of the past” (Beliefnet.com). Some even try to jump through the flames 12 times!

MarthaStewart.com describes another jumping tradition: “Many Danish people celebrate the New Year by jumping off chairs at the stroke of midnight. Leaping is said to banish bad luck and bring good fortune into the new year. They also traditionally throw plates at neighbors’ doors to symbolize their friendship. The person with the most broken plates is said to have the most friends.”

On NPR.org, Maria Fe Martinez describes another Latin American New Year’s tradition: “If you want to have a very lucky year, you have to wear yellow underwear. And if you want to have a very passionate year, you wear red underwear. …

“And you can get them all over town. Like, if you’re driving in your car, you’re going to see a street vendor selling yellow underwear, which is hilarious. Right after Christmas, they show up.”

The International Business Times reports that 44 percent of Americans say they will kiss someone at midnight. But why?

According to Livescience.com, “Puckering up at the stroke of midnight is a venerable tradition with ancient roots. Many cultures considered the transition from the warm to the cold seasons to be an intensely vulnerable time, when evil spirits could run amok, Aveni [author of The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays] said.

“Many of our traditions, including kissing, originally come from the English tradition of ‘saining,’ or offering blessing or protection, during the period of Yuletide, Aveni said. (Yuletide was originally a pre-Christian Germanic festival that eventually became synonymous with Christmastide in Europe.)”

New Year’s crime rates

In addition to its pagan roots, the fruits of this holiday are not good. For example, according to Allprobailbond.com, “the holidays are the busiest time of year for the bail bond industry.” Why?

“• Increased alcohol consumption. … Driving under the influence is the leading cause for New Year’s Eve arrests. …

“• Increased emotions. Some people are very unhappy during the holidays. Domestic violence often increases during the holiday season as well as self-inflicted wounds. Consumption of alcohol also increases violent acts.”

What does the Bible say?

The Bible gives its own list of meaningful annual celebrations, but Jan. 1 is not on the list. It’s definitely not God’s new year; He set the first month of the year to begin in what we call March or April.The Bible gives its own list of meaningful annual celebrations, but Jan. 1 is not on the list. It’s definitely not God’s new year; He set the first month of the year to begin in what we call March or April (Exodus 12:2; Deuteronomy 16:1). And the Bible warns against getting ensnared by customs that are based on pagan religions. We are not to ask, “How did these nations serve their gods? I will do likewise” (Deuteronomy 12:30).

Superstitions and customs that may seem quaint or harmless to most people today can be repulsive to God who knows their roots and their fruits.

Playing with paganism isn’t cute—it is corrosive to our relationship with the true God. When God calls Himself a “jealous God,” it’s actually a sign of His love and desire for the best for us (Deuteronomy 6:14-15).

And consider the apostle Peter’s call to avoid sinful celebrations where there is “lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3). Peter acknowledged that our friends may think it strange we no longer party with them, but in the end we must answer to God.

For all these reasons, celebrating the pagan holiday of New Year’s Eve is not pleasing to God.

Learn more about what God says in our free booklet From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You.

Continue Reading

×

Discern is published every two months and is available in digital and print versions. Choose your preferred format to start your subscription.

Print

Print subscriptions available in U.S., Canada and Europe

×
Fill out the form below to start your subscription.
×
Fill out the form below to start your subscription.
Please enter your first name.
Please enter your last name.
A valid email address is required.