New Year’s Eve brings loud, boisterous celebrations, with fireworks, music, and lots of champagne. And when you join those celebrations, you’re following a tradition that dates back at least 4,000 years — to ancient Babylon.
But the Babylonians celebrated the start of the year at a different time — at the first new Moon after the spring equinox, in March. In fact, many cultures marked the turning of the year at about that same time. The equinox is a period of new life and new beginnings, so it seemed like a logical time to reset the calendar.
Ancient Rome was among those cultures. But in 46 BC, Julius Caesar reformed the calendar. He set New Year’s Day as January 1st. January honored the god Janus, who had two faces — one to look into the past, the other into the future. The people of Rome made sacrifices, held big parties, and exchanged gifts.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the date of New Year’s drifted. In the late 1500s, thanks to another calendar reform, it began to return. January 1st was adopted in England and its American colonies in 1753, where it’s remained ever since — setting up big celebrations for New Year’s Eve.
And the evening sky offers some decorations for tonight’s festivities. The Moon is high in the sky during twilight, with Venus, the “evening star,” quite low in the southwest. The planets Jupiter and Saturn line up between them, with bright orange Mars in the east.
Script by Damond Benningfield