A celebration of change and new beginnings.
By: Emily Groleau, Root & Seed Editor
We’ve all lamented the slow march of time, or perhaps reflected on how fleeting it is in those moments we wish could last forever. Over the last couple years, with lives across the globe thrown into a tailspin during the pandemic, many have even gained a newfound appreciation for time, one that holds all the more significance as we reflect on the coming of a new year and how we hope to spend it. For many, New Years is inevitably an introspective time for this reason. Resolutions are written down, shared, or perhaps only spoken aloud to ourselves. The general hope seems to be that we can arise from last year’s ashes as newer, better versions of ourselves at the turn of a clock hand. But beyond our personal reflections, some of the best parts of New Years can be found in the celebratory traditions and communities around us.
The Significance of New Years
As we explored in a previous blog post, New Years is associated with multiple names and dates across history and cultures. Some of the earliest recorded hints of celebrations that resemble this holiday can be traced back to around 4,000 years ago and ancient Babylon’s Akitu festival. The Babylonian year began during the first new moon after the vernal equinox, when darkness and daylight falls evenly across the earth. In addition to marking a new year, Akitu explored the age-old theme of ‘good vs. evil’ through its emphasis on a mythical tale of the sky god Marduk’s triumph over the sea goddess Tiamat. The community crowned new rulers at the turn of the new year as well, in keeping with the myth’s hopeful message of upheaval followed by good prevailing, perhaps.
The Babylonians weren’t alone in linking New Years celebrations to impactful natural events. The first day of Chinese New Year became associated with the second new moon following the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. For Egyptians, the rise of the star Sirius paralleled the rise and flooding of the Nile River at the beginning of each year. And if you celebrate New Years Day on January 1, you can thank Julius Caesar. He made this date the year’s start in alignment with the solar cycle. The date was partially chosen as a nod to Janus, the god of beginnings and two faces—one that looked into the past, and one that looked to the future.
Snapshots of Celebration
Communities celebrate the hope of New Years in so many ways. Around the world, there are impressive firework displays, party crackers and crowns, a-year-in-review type TV specials, sparkling gatherings, and midnight kisses. There’s also no small amount of eating and counting, sometimes with symbolism at the forefront.
Many traditional New Years meals feature legumes, such as lentils for instance, as their coin-like shape is associated with financial prosperity. Ring-shaped desserts can be found on many tables as well, as a literal sign of a year coming ‘round full-circle. In Spain, eating 12 grapes in quick succession during the last 12 seconds of the year is believed to bring good fortune. Denmark's communities rally to express love in a unique way—the more smashed plates you can count on your doorstep from well-wishers, the better your upcoming year promises to be. Brazilians may hit the beach to jump over seven wishful waves for extra luck. The Singapore River is blanketed with thousands upon thousands of floating wishing spheres every year from the local community and beyond, with each sphere cradling a person’s “launched” hopes and dreams for the future.
Perhaps your 2021 New Years traditions and social circles are smaller. Maybe this time of year is just a reason to throw a party featuring junk food, dollar store hats, and a few of your favourite people; you may stay up ‘til midnight sitting on the sofa in matching pyjamas with your children, watching the same channel as usual and waiting for the ball and a flurry of confetti to drop; or maybe you just break out a bottle of champagne to share a quiet cheers with someone who stuck by your side during a difficult time the last 12 months. Maybe this year or last, the best circumstances allowed for was blowing kisses to far away loved ones through a screen. We keep the traditions we can, and some slip away or ask to return in unexpected ways. Ultimately, it’s the people we choose to share our joyful moments, reflections, and traditions with as the year closes that can make New Years and the 365 days ahead (and behind us) all the more special.
We encourage you to check out Root & Seed’s Conversation Tool, where we have several questions under the "Celebrations" Topic to help record some of your family's favourite New Years memories, traditions, and stories for safe keeping. With the dig deeper questions, you might even be surprised what you'll learn!
What traditions or meanings do you associate with New Years? Share with our community in the comments below!