Each culture observes the new year in its own way.
In Britain, people party in homes, clubs and pubs, watch fireworks and compare memories of the year that’s passed and resolutions for the year to come. It’s an English custom that the first dark haired or blonde man (the hair color depends on which part of the country you’re in), who crosses the threshold of a household after midnight must bring a gift such as a loaf of bread, cake, whiskey, etc. to ensure the family has good luck in the coming year.
In Greece, food is associated with good luck for the year. New Year’s Day is also called the Festival of St. Basil in honor of the founder of the Greek Orthodox Church. Vassilopitta or St. Basil’s cake is baked with a silver or gold coin inside.
When the cake is cut, the person lucky enough to find the coin in their slice will be especially blessed during the New Year.
In Japan, good luck and prosperity are secured by hanging decorations made out of straw ropes around the entranceways.
In addition to fireworks and ringing bells, (it seems every country rings bells and has light displays at midnight!), the Japanese send postcards to each other to keep in touch much like our Christmas cards. The post cards are supposed to arrive on January 1 and students are hired to make sure the post office has enough workers to handle the task.
The Danes, on the other hand, apparently like to throw things on New Year’s Eve. Specifically, dishes at the doorways of friends and neighbors. Cups, saucers, plates and soup bowls are collected and kept all year long for this purpose. The more broken dishes on your doorstep, the more popular you must be.
Special American customs include, but are not limited to, bell ringing, singing “Auld Lang Syne” before kissing someone (hopefully someone you know and like) at midnight, fireworks displays and watching football games on New Year’s Day. Traditionally, New Year’s Eve is a time for dressing up, going out for an elaborate dinner and dancing through the night. In addition, we have one unique custom that is now known and observed around the world: Watching a crystal ball drop from the top of the New York Times Tower in Times Square at the very second the New Year begins.
Here’s the inside scoop on how this tradition began.
The Start of the NY Time’s Celebration
Since the 1800’s New Yorkers have gathered to await the moment when one year ended and another began. One of the favorite meeting places for this event was Trinity Church at 75 Broadway in Lower Manhattan. When the magic moment arrived, church bells rang out, fireworks exploded, couples embraced as the New Year was welcomed in. However, in 1904 everything changed.
That was the year that Adolph Ochs, the owner of The New York Times, successfully lobbied the city to rename Longacre Square, where the paper was located, to Times Square. The newspaper had just put up the Times Tower, the second tallest building in the city, to house its new offices. And Ochs was determined to build the Times’ brand by celebrating this achievement with a New Year’s Eve party to end all others.
Over 200,000 people gathered at the newly built Times Tower in the newly renamed Times Square and, as a Times reporter described it the next day in the paper, “From base to dome the giant structure was alight – a torch to usher in the newborn year…” Fireworks were, of course, a big part of the entertainment and for the next two years the New York Times party in Times Square was THE place to be on New Year’s Eve.
Then the city banned the fireworks display in 1907 due to safety concerns. But nothing stops a good newspaperman from reporting or, in this case, making news. In place of the forbidden fireworks, Ochs decided to create a spectacular variation of a lighted time ball.
Time balls were designed to allow ships at sea to set their clocks and navigational equipment accurately. The first such device was used at England’s Royal Observatory at Greenwich in 1833. A ball would drop precisely at 1 PM each day from the top of the observatory tower so shipping crews for miles around could reset their watches and chronometers to navigate properly.
Ochs asked a metalworker Jacob Starr to build a time ball that could be seen at night when dropped from the flagpole atop the Times Tower. Made of iron and wood, five feet in diameter and weighing 700 pounds, the ball was covered with 100 25-watt light bulbs. And it was an enormous success! A crystal ball has brightened america’s new year ever since.
This year the latest version of the Times Tower crystal ball is a geodesic sphere twelve feet in diameter, weighing 11,875 pounds and covered with 2,688 Waterford crystal triangles. It will be alight with 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs. The perfect combination of a time-honored twentieth century icon realized using twenty-first century technology.
Chicago’s Historial First
“Chi-Town Rising,” will be a free six-hour event that will bring fireworks, music and other attractions to the Chicago River between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive on New Year’s Eve. … A New Year’s Eve celebration designed to rival Times Square’s—right here in our hometown.
Attractions will include multiple stages featuring “top musical talent”, fireworks launched from the roofs of buildings along the river. The new display will be synchronized with the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks at Navy Pier. So instead of looking for a “dropped ball,” look for the rising star of Chicago—an event designed to dazzle both city dwellers and the world.
Regardless of where you travel, where you live or where you plan to celebrate, we hope you’ll join us in observing this very special American custom as an estimated one billion people in every corner of the globe will count down the seconds to 2016. A Happy and Prosperous New Year to us all!