Ringing in the New Year

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newyear1What do these lyrics remind you of? “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?”

Do the lyrics bring images of balls dropping at midnight on New Year’s Eve and people celebrating the start of a new year? Auld Lang Syne was a Scottish folk song transcribed and made famous by Scottish poet Robert Burns. Translated, the title literally means “old long since” or in more common English, it means long ago or days gone by. At Scotland’s Official Government site, watch a short video about the life of Robert Burns. Interestingly, the song was never intended to be the official song of ringing in the new year. The tradition began in Scotland and England. Immigrants who moved to the United Stated brought the tradition with them. The song was made famous on New Year’s Eve in 1929 when Guy Lombardo and his band played it at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City as an intermission between two live broadcasted radio shows.

As we get ready to ring in 2014, let’s learn more about the holiday.

The CalendarCalendar

Did you know that the calendar we use to mark days and years has changed throughout the history? Throughout history, civilizations created calendars to gauge the passage of time. In 45 BC, the Romans under the rule of Julius Caesar, introduced the Julian calendar. Prior to the creation of the Julian calendar, Rome’s was a mess. Politicians added days, even months to suit their various political agendas. This chaotic and undependable calendar system just did not work. The Julian calendar re-established order and for the next 1500 years, most of the western world followed the Julian calendar. Learn more about the established of the Julian calendar at WebExhibits’ The Christian Calendar.  Find out about what the Roman calendar looked like before the Julian calendar was instituted, leap years, and the consequences of the Julian calendar.

Over the centuries, the Julian calendar slowly drifted off course. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII reformed the Julian calendar. This new calendar was called the Gregorian calendar. Watch How Stuff Works short video This Day in History: The Gregorian Calendar.  Can you imagine losing 10 days? How do you think people felt about this radical change? Now, return to WebExhibit and read about the Gregorian calendar. Learn if the new year has always started on January 1, why February only has 28 days, and more.

People have celebrated the start of a new year for thousands of years. Over 4000 years ago, the Babylonians honored the arrival of the vernal equinox with a week-long celebration called Akitu. Throughout time, civilizations celebrated the new year at various dates including the fall and winter solstices. After the adoption of the Julian calendar, the new year began on January 1, except for a period of time when it was outlawed during the Middle Ages. Learn more about the different dates of the new year by watching the History Channel’s videos History of New Year’s Eve and Bet You Didn’t Know: New Year’s Eve. After watching the videos, think about the following questions: How has the celebration of the new year changed throughout history? Does everyone today celebrate the new year on January 1?

newyear2Celebrating the New Year around the World

For most of the world, January 1 signals the beginning of a new year. On December 31, people typically stay up past midnight to mark the end of one year and the start of another. First, travel to Times Square in New York City.

Beginning in 1904 as a way to celebrate the opening of the new headquarters of The New York Times, the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square is one of the most well-known. Here, the end of the year is marked with the lowering of a ball from a tower. The ball dropping tradition in Times Square began in 1907 and continues today. Learn more by exploring the Times Square site. Be sure to watch the videos about the history of New Year’s Eve at Times Square, the New Year’s Eve Webcast, and the New Year’s Eve Photo Gallery.


Next, view the BBC slideshow of New Year’s Eve images from around the globe. Did you see any similarities in the images?

At PBS, watch videos about the Zoroastrian New Year and the Tibetan New Year. Then, read about Japan’s Oshogatsu. Lastly, visit the British Museum’s exhibit on the Chinese New Year. How do these celebrations differ? What are their similarities?

New Year Resolutions

Another aspect of celebrating the new year is making New Year resolutions. As you can imagine, people’s resolutions run the gamut from being healthier to spending less to going back to school.  The idea of making resolutions for the new year has been around for quite a while.  Watch the GeoBeats History of New Year’s Resolutions (teachers: as with all videos, make sure it is appropriate for viewing for your student and when viewing YouTube videos, you may choose to first use ViewPure). Do you make New Year’s resolutions? If so, what have some of your resolutions been? Were you successful in keeping your resolution?

newyear4How do you celebrate the arrival of the new year? Whether you celebrate by staying up to watch the ball drop or by fixing a special food or even if you sleep through the arrival of the new year, may you have a happy and healthy 2014!

Andrea Annas



The Story of Robert Burns

WebExhibits: Calendars

Today in History: The Gregorian calendar

History Channel: New Year

Times Square



British Museum

The History of New Year’s Resolutions


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