Happy New Years — let’s make 2010 a good year

Published 12:38 am Sunday, January 3, 2010

God created the sun and the earth and established the seasons of the year then left it up to us to divide time into years and days and to schedule holidays. New Year’s Day is the oldest of all the holidays and, although it seems logical to begin a new year in the spring, we have been celebrating every New Year’s Day in midwinter for about 400 years.

Some of the traditional ways we greet the new year go back many centuries. In many ways we try to improve on the old year as we enter the new one.

Many cultures believe that a person should be in the company of loved ones as the old year ends and the new year arrives. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year’s Day would bring either good or bad luck. If that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man the chance for prosperity during the year would be good.

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One tradition held that food in the shape of a ring would bring good luck because it symbolized “coming full circle.” For example, the Dutch eat doughnuts on New Year’s Day.

In the United States we celebrate the new year by serving a simple, poor folks diet of black-eyed peas, hog jowls or ham on New Year’s Day. (Actually, black-eyed peas are considered a good luck food in a number of cultures.) Add cabbage to the menu on the first day of the year and you practically guarantee yourself a prosperous year. (As anyone can see the leaves of a head of cabbage represent green back paper money.) In some regions rice, a lucky food, is served on New Year’s Day.

The tradition of new year’s resolutions began with the Babylonians who believed that the first day of the year was the proper time to return borrowed things, especially farm equipment. Today that would include lawn mowers, umbrellas and books.

A baby symbolized the new year in Greece around 600 B.C. They celebrated their god of wine, Dionysus, by parading an infant around in a basket. The baby represented the annual rebirth of Dionysus as the spirit of fertility. The early Christians deplored such a practice but eventually began to celebrate the beginning of the new year with a baby. Only this time the baby was not a nameless infant but the baby Jesus.

When the Germans migrated to America they brought with them the symbol of a baby with a new years banner draped around it — a custom they had practiced since the 14th century. Their St. Nicholas was a large dignified gentleman with a serious face which was transformed by Clement Clarke Moore into a jolly old elf in his poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

New Year’s Day in our country seems to have become a full day of football games. The Rose Bowl started the tradition in 1902 when a game was played as a part of the Tournament of Roses. It was replaced the next year by Roman chariot races but football returned as the sports centerpiece of the festival in 1916. Several bowls are now scattered across the nation and games are played one after the other as the time zone moves west. As a result some fans are glued to their television sets watching televised football games all day long. I think it was Irma Bombeck who wrote that a wife should be allowed to declare her husband legally brain dead after he watches three successive games.

The theme song for New Year’s Day, “Auld Lang Syne” was sung in the 17th century. Robert Burns revised the old Scotch song and it was published in 1796 after his death. The title literally means “old long ago” or “the good old days.” Well, they probably were not as golden as we old timers remember them but they were also not as grim as they have been painted.

While many of us are not enthusiastic about new year’s resolutions, can we at least agree on this prayer?

When the year, 2010 is only a distant memory, may our descendents be reaping the benefits of the year when we made peace with God and with one another and good things came about because of it.