It is thought that the tradition of New Years resolutions can be dated back to around 153BC when a mythical King of early Rome, Janus was placed at the head of the calendar.
Janus had two faces which allowed him to look back on events in the past as well as into the future. He became the symbol for resolutions. New Year was a time when the Romans looked for forgiveness from their enemies as well as exchanging presents and good wishes for the coming year.
New Year however has not always been on the 1st January and in some cultures the New Year still begins on different dates. The 1st January was adopted as the New Year in 46BC when Julius Caesar developed a 365 day solar calendar which reflected more the seasons than previous ones had.
The first month January, was named after Janus, the two faced god, guardian of entrances, doors and new beginnings. Thus on December 31st the Romans pictured Janus looking both backwards, reviewing the year and forwards into the coming year. A tradition was started of exchanging gifts, these were branches from sacred trees to bring luck and good fortune, later nuts or coins with Janus’s head became popular.
During the Middle Ages New Years day was changed by the Christians to December 25th to celebrate the birth of Christ. It was then changed to March 25th which was known as the Annunciation. During the 16th century it was returned to January 1st When Pope Gregory XIII revised the calendar
Both the Julian and Gregorian calendars are based around the solar calendar. However some cultures still work to the lunar calendar. A year in a lunar calendar is less than 365 days as it is based on the phases of the moon. The Chinese work on a lunar calendar with their New Year being at the time of the first full moon after the sun enters Aquarius.
No matter on what date the New Year is celebrated it is a time of celebration with customs to help ensure a lucky and fruitful coming year. Here are a few of the customs I have found whilst researching this article:
Traditionally it was thought to bring good luck if the first person over the threshold on New Years day was a dark haired man carrying a lump of coal. This symbolised wealth and warmth for the coming year.
The good luck symbol for the New Year is a suckling pig. It is traditionally served on a table decorated with tiny edible pigs. Peppermint ice in the shape of 4-leafed clovers is also served.
On the stroke on midnight 12 grapes are eaten one on the toll of each bell to bring luck for each of the 12 coming months.
The Spanish tradition is observed here with a 13th grape being eaten to seal the luck
The Chinese have many customs for New Year but that’s for another blog!