The final day of the Gregorian calendar is more special than most. Not only does it signal in a new year, but it calls for a massive celebration unlike any others you’ll have for the entire year. Surprisingly, this party began long before the New York City ball was first dropped. It started in ancient Babylon.
About 4,000 years ago, Babylonians ushered in their new year late in the month of March. They believed that the vernal equinox—the period when the sun is up for exactly 12 hours—signaled the beginning of a new year. Plausible.
The festivities included a huge religious festival called Akitu, lasting 11 days. Akitu celebrated the mythical victory of the Babylonian sky god Marduk over his opponent the sea goddess Tiamat.
Early iterations of the Roman calendar had just 10 months and 304 days. This was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C. Eventually, King Numa Pompilius added the months of Januarius and Februarius (you can guess which months those are today).
Throughout most of the world, people celebrate and embrace the time as an excuse to indulge in food and drink, while also celebrating new beginnings. Most first world nations have a method of formaling reigning in the new year, America’s being the most widely recognized. The land down under might finish a close second with its beautiful fireworks show over Sydney Harbor.
New Years resolutions have been around equally as long as the celebration itself. Babylonians were the forerunners of this practice, which was initially tied to their religious beliefs. Over the years, Christians treated the first day of the new year as an opportunity to seek forgiveness and change their ways moving forward. In 1740, Methodism founder John Wesley started the Covenant Renewal Service, held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. He would read from Scriptures and sing hymns, serving as a spiritual alternative to the other celebrations held during that time period.
It probably sounds bizarre to imagine that New Years was once tied to religion, as it is now a holiday characterized by lots and lots of alcohol. Instead of people repenting to the Gods for their sins, they now secularize their guilt in the form of gym memberships.
Regardless of the reasons behind your celebration and resolutions, New Years is a special time for those looking to start anew—even though about 8 percent of Americans actually achieve their New Years goals.