When many think of New Year’s celebrations, the Times Square ball drop comes to mind. Over one
million dollars are spent every year to plan and execute the world-famous event. 50,000 watts of energy is
used just on the ball, which weighs 11,875 pounds. The statistics are met with staggering audiences; well
over one billion people are expected to watch this year, either in person or on television. But why do the
festivities exist? Why do we even celebrate the New Year?
The exact date itself comes from Julius Caesar, who established the Julian calendar (named after himself,
naturally) as he took over Rome. The first month was called January after the Roman god Janus, who had
one face looking ahead and one behind. This is believed to be the origin of the concept of change and
rebirth in the New Year, most notably in the form of New Year’s resolutions. He marked the date with
copious amounts of alcohol and lavish parties.
Despite Caesar’s best efforts, though, the celebration fell out of favour some centuries later in 567 A.D. as
New Year’s was deemed sacrilegious. Dates were marked by celebrations of Christian importance, such
as Christmas Day and the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25. January 1 was later given the
significance of Jesus’ circumcision, which was what Christians of the time considered the death of
The New Year was overhauled once again by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, who imposed the Gregorian
calendar upon Europe. Although New Year’s Day was still January 1, the calendar was pushed ten days
forward in comparison to Caesar’s measurement. Unfortunately, history took a dark turn as the new
Gregorian date turned into an occasion for Christians to torment Jewish people throughout the Medieval
period and beyond. Many synagogues and Jewish texts were destroyed in the grim process.
Fast forward to 1752, when the Gregorian calendar was accepted in Britain and her colonies of what is now
Canada and the United States. About one and a half centuries later, in the early 1900’s, fireworks boomed
over Manhattan courtesy of one Adolph S. Ochs, who would launch them from the top of his newspaper’s
building. By then, the genocidal undertone to New Year’s had dissolved; Ochs was a Jew who actively
campaigned against anti-Semitism. As the molten byproducts rained down on passersby, though, the
government prohibited the annual show and left Ochs looking for a new way to impress his high-society
friends. The ball drop was born from his efforts, and the tradition remains today.
An often-overlooked fact is that not everybody celebrates New Year’s according to the sparkling sphere.
Chinese New Year, which lands on varying days because it follows the Lunar Calendar, is a more well-
known celebration. Its less prominent but equally splendid counterparts include Enkutatash, the Ethiopian
New Year, celebrated on September 11 with much dancing and singing. Thai people observe
Songkran, celebrated from April 13-15.
No matter the origin and religion, though, all New Year’s events bring families together to eat, celebrate, and wish each other a prosperous New Year.