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Story published: 01-02-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

An American New Year


By: Lacy Hilliard

Tomahawk Writer, Photographer

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And auld lang syne! 

The nostalgic echo of auld lang syne, a kiss at midnight, and the drop of a ball all signal new beginnings and the thoughtful promises of a new year. These relics of a newborn year have become etched in American culture and have staked their claim in New Year’s tradition.

The origin of Auld Lang Syne, which translates to “days gone by”, is late eighteenth century Scotland. Auld Lang Syne was written by Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Though Burns introduced Auld Lang Syne, he admitted in a letter to the Scots Musical Museum that some of the lyrics were “collected” rather than original. In Scotland, Auld Lang Syne is sung at the end of a variety of celebrations including traditional dances. It wasn’t until the year 1929 that Americans adopted Auld Lang Syne. It was said to be popularized when Canadian band leader Guy Lombardo began playing the song during his radio broadcasts. In modern times, Auld Lang Syne is played at the conclusion of New Year’s celebrations in many English speaking countries including Scotland and England.

What would the stroke of midnight on New Year’s be without a kiss? The celebratory New Year’s kiss is so representative of the coming of a new year that lip-locked couples are broadcast on network television stations for the world to see each New Year’s Eve. Much like Auld Lang Syne, the New Year’s kiss is also steeped in tradition. The kiss is said to originate from Ancient Rome and the Festival of Saturnalia. The festival was in honor of the deity, Saturn and was celebrated on December the seventeenth and extended to December the twenty-third. The celebrations included gift giving, gambling, and socialization. Kissing was also a big part of the festival and in their celebratory cheer, the Romans kissed both strangers and lovers freely. Later, the English and Germans adopted the kiss to celebrate the coming of the New Year. As the bells tolled at midnight, they would celebrate by kissing the first person they saw. The English brought the custom to the new world and so began the American tradition of the New Year’s Eve midnight kiss.

Another vestige of the American New Year is the drop of the ball in New York City’s Times Square. As the brimming crowd counts down from 10 seconds, the sparkling ball drops in unison and climaxes by flashing the New Year. The very first New York New Year’s Celebration was held in the year 1904; the same year that the New York Times opened its new headquarters at One Times Square which was originally referred to as Longacre Square. Back then fireworks were launched over the growing city to celebrate the coming of the New Year. But the city’s planning commission as well as businesses that surrounded Times Square wanted to do more to attract the masses. And so the New York Times chief electrician, Walter Palmer, formulated a plan to construct a ‘time ball’ that was to be lit electrically and dropped from a flagpole-like contraption. The original ball weighed 700 pounds and was lit by one hundred 25-watt light bulbs. The ball made its New Year’s Eve maiden voyage in 1908. Unfortunately, the drop was a bit less than perfect and the ball actually made its way to the bottom of the platform one second after midnight. Since that time, the Times Square ball has undergone several improvements including the addition of computerized elements that guarantee accurate timing. Cosmetically, the ball has also changed. In 1996, rhinestones, strobe lights, and Waterford Crystal were added to the ball; giving it a sparkle that wowed spectators. Sadly, in 1942 the ball drop was suspended due to wartime activity. World War II was raging and President Roosevelt felt that a gathering of that magnitude posed a security risk and so on the eve of 1943, Americans celebrated by carrying out a moment of silence in solidarity of their friends and family members fighting overseas as well as the victims of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The 2013 Times Square ball will dedicate one crystal square to the life of Dick Clark, a New Year’s Eve icon that hosted the ball drop from 1972 to 2012 even after a stroke in 2005 nearly robbed him of his ability to speak. Dick Clark’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” has become a symbol of the modern day American New Year’s celebration and for many, the 2013 celebrations will be left with a noticeable void.

Perhaps one of the most iconic elements of the American New Year is the New Year’s resolution. It is unclear exactly where the tradition of the New Year’s resolution began, but historians theorize that the custom lies in Ancient Babylon. The Ancient Babylonians made promises at the start of the New Year to their various gods. The resolutions were made up of promises to pay debts and return items that they had borrowed in the previous year. The roots of the New Year’s resolution are also present in Christianity. During ‘Watch Night Services’ (Christian church services that take place late in the evening) Christians vowed to make positive changes in the coming new year. Today, some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions include the promise of a healthier lifestyle (especially losing weight) and the vow to improve upon unwanted personality traits.

The upcoming New Year is seen as a fresh start for millions across the globe. No matter how you choose to celebrate, it’s widely believed that the start of a New Year brings with it the possibility of change.

The staff of The Tomahawk would like to wish our readers a Happy and prosperous New Year and we hope that you all will enjoy the positive changes we have planned for 2013.