What is the history of New Year celebrations
New Year celebrations, in typical years, often involves large gatherings of friends and family and a time to look forward to the future, particularly if a year was difficult. Celebrations of New Year have occurred for millennia, even when New Year's Day occurred at different times than January 1st. Nevertheless, even as the date has changed, looking forward to a New Year has not.
Earliest New Year Celebrations Recorded
The earliest evidence of celebrations for New Year occurred from southern Mesopotamia, in the early 3rd millennium BCE. The month of Bara-zag-ǧar, which corresponds to the vernal equinox and when the first full moon occurred (around early April), was seen as the beginning of the year. This celebration not only corresponded with the equinox but was also a critical time for the development of crops that were growing and harvest prior to the hot summer months (the harvest being in June). Later, festivities were taken up by the Akitu festival, which became the official name for the celebrations that lasted 12 days. The main celebration evolved, by the 2nd millennium BCE, to focus on the god Marduk's victory over Tiamat, who was a goddess associated with chaos. The celebrations included a parade with the king involved. For ancient Egypt, New Year was on September 11, which also revolved around agricultural cycles, in this case the beginning of the agricultural year. Records indicate by the 3rd millennium BCE, Egyptians would gather, likely with friends and families, have parades, and hold gatherings to give thanks, and pray for the Nile's continual flow to support the future harvest.
For some of the ancient Greek cultures, the Attic calendar was followed and the beginning of the year was often the first new moon after the summer solstice. There were no formal celebrations at the beginning of the New Year but important festivals were held in the Greek New Year month, including Hekatombaion and Panathenaea, which celebrated Apollo and Athena in Athens. These celebrations would include games, wide participation by slaves and freed people, and various gatherings. There would also be musical contests and sacrifices to honor the gods, while processions for the gods would be given that would involve communities.
The ancient Roman calendar originally only had ten months, but by 8th century BCE the early Roman king Numa Pontilius added the months that became January and February in our calendar. Originally, the Roman New Year's Day was in March, similar to ancient Mesopotamia in using the vernal equinox to mark the New Year. However, by 45 BCE the Romans decided to reform their civil calendar, under Julius Caesar, and New Year's Day was moved to January 1st. This was initially so it would correspond to the beginning of the tenure for the two Roman consuls, who held the highest office in Roman state. The Roman tradition after the Julian reforms included giving sacrifices to god Janus, with January named after him, giving gifts to others, and even decorating homes with laurel. The Roman, of course, loved to have raucous parties and many events often involved heavy wine drinking, with lavish parties given by wealthy Romans in their homes. However, by the time Christianity was widely adopted in Europe in the early Medieval period, traditions of celebrating New Year with parties and gifts were disregarded, as they were seen as pagan and associated with the ancient gods. New Year, eventually, was seen not as a holiday but was simply acknowledged without any great celebration.