US New Year’s Traditions and Their History

Subscribe

 

The United States is steeped in traditions, and New Year’s Eve is no exception. So whether you’re at a friend’s house or a fancy party downtown, here are some classic New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day traditions that are timeless and will never go out of style (at least not any time soon).

New Year’s Eve Traditions

Midnight Kiss

Whether you’re kissing a new friend or a longtime loved one, this is a long-standing ancient tradition believed to ward off evil spirits. This tradition is believed to date back to European times when kissing was thought to bring people good luck and blessings into the new year.

“Auld Lang Syne”

The classic New Year’s Eve song “Auld Lang Syne” was originally a poem written in the 18th century by Scottish poet, Robert Burns. The song, which means “old long ago,” talks about the love and kindness of past days. It became an American tradition around 1929 when people began singing it to say goodbye to the past and usher in the new year.

Champagne

Holiday overindulgence is common and expected, but have you ever wondered why champagne is the go-to drink for New Year’s Eve? The tradition of champagne traces back to the Christian tradition of Eucharist, which is drinking wine to remember the blood of Christ. More commonly, wine from France’s Champagne region became popular for baptisms, which led to wine becoming a part of religious ceremonies and events. Soon this bubbly wine gained popularity at parties and was then marketed towards middle-class families for celebrations.

Dropping the Ball

The annual ball drop in Times Square at midnight used to be a massive fireworks show, but at one point, fireworks became banned, so people began hunting for an equally enjoyable alternative. The 700-pound orb was introduced in 1907 and has been a long-standing tradition ever since.

Fireworks

Fireworks and loud noises are abundant on New Year's Eve. Initially, this eastern tradition was believed to ward away evil spirits; however, in the west, this tradition isn't steeped in religious beliefs. It is more of a morale booster, believed to mimic firing cannons and guns.

Resolutions

A common belief is that the first New Year's resolutions date back to the Babylonians, more than 4,000 years ago, which were promises made to their gods for hopes of a fruitful new year. The Romans would offer sacrifices and promises to their god Janus. Christians then began using the New Year's Day to reflect on past mistakes and grievances, while resolving to do better. Today, while the religious aspect has disappeared, resolutions are a time to focus on self-improvement.

New Year’s Day Traditions

While New Year's Eve focuses on parties, New Year's Day tends to shift towards food.

Black-eyed Peas

A typical good luck food, black-eyed peas are a bean, and there are two main theories why this food is considered lucky by so many people. The first theory is that when the Union soldiers raided a Confederate Army food supply during the Civil War, the only thing they left behind was black-eyed peas. Another theory is that newly freed slaves ate black-eyed peas to celebrate their independence since this was one of the few foods afforded to them.

Pork

While chickens scratch backwards when pigs eat, they bury their snouts in the ground and move forward, and New Year's is a time for progressing. Additionally, pigs are traditionally slaughtered in the fall, which means that ham and pork have had time to smoke and are generally in abundance during this time.

Cabbage

Believed to bring a long life and wealth, cabbage is harvested in the late fall and typically takes six to eight weeks to ferment, which means it’s ready in time for New Year celebrations.

Greens

Green is the color of prosperity and money, which is why down south, greens are a side dish to a New Year's Day feast. They are also commonly found hanging around doorways, as they are believed to ward off evil spirits.

Cake

Baking a New Year’s Day cake is a common tradition, and while different cultures have specific types of cake they serve on this holiday, the common theme is that usually a trinket or special coin is inside the cake. The person who gets this piece is supposed to have great luck throughout the new year.