Every New Year's eve, most families stay up late to watch the ball in times square drop, have a bit of champagne, and share your resolutions which won't last very long but where did some of these traditions come from.
Growing up, watching the ball being dropped in Times square was a must along with singing Auld Lang Syne but I never gave it any thought on their history.
So a bit of history beginning with Times Square and moving on.
Since the Times Square has been present for my whole life, I shall start with that. Although there has been a celebration in Times Square since 1904, the bell made its first appearance in 1907 because the city outlawed fire works. The city arranged to lower a ball made of wood and iron, decorated with 100 25watt lights. It had a diameter of 5 feet while weighing 700 pounds. There have been 7 balls over its history, including the time it was used as part of the "I love New York" campaign. A ball has been dropped every year except for 1942 and 1943 due to World War II.
Auld Lang Syne, the traditional song associated with New Years Eve means "for old times sake". It is attributed to Robert Burns but according to the Scotland page, in 1788, he sent the words to the Scottish Music Museum because these words came from an old song and he was the first to record the words.
The song carries a tradition of standing in a circle, holding hands while welcoming the new year. The custom started in Scotland but spread across the English speaking world to the point it has become a tradition.
Then there is kissing at midnight, the fun part when you are not a drinker. According to historians, kissing at midnight can be traced back to the Romans who loved kissing and other sexual things to welcome in the New Year. Over time, the tradition evolved to kissing the first person you met when the bells rang at midnight. This European version included a masked ball because the mask symbolized evil and when they removed the mask at midnight to kiss the first person, it was considered an act of purification. This kiss was believed to strengthen relationships.
My mother is a die hard black eyed peas at midnight fan along with a couple other things but I think she picked it up when she lived in Texas. The idea behind this tradition is if you eat as if poor on New Year's eve, you'll be rich the rest of the year. As to how the tradition started, that is lost in the mists of time. Some think it dates back to the civil war, when food crops were destroyed by the Northern army and the only thing to survive was black eyed peas also known as cowpeas, china peas or southern peas.
More tomorrow on strange New Years traditions. Let me know what you think.