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The History of New Year's

It is a night when no one sleeps. Children rattle noisemakers, shake bells, and bang on pots and pans, and everyone celebrates one giant birthday. Whose birthday is it? The Earth's! It is on all different days for people around the world, but for us, it is on January 1st. But no matter how or when you celebrate it, it is important that we always do.

No one knows when we started celebrating the New Year. All we know is we started the custom many thousands of years ago. Back then, people were fishing, hunting, farming and gathering, which depended mostly on the weather and the land. When winter came, they had only a small supply of food. They thought the sun would never return. At the first sign of growing plants, they were joyous and celebrated the new year with a religious festival, giving gifts to gods to make them happy and having a giant feast of good food. They hoped the gods would give them another new year.

The Egyptians started their New year with a flood. The Nile River floods every year, which Egyptians are thankful for because of their dry lands. Their new year was in June when Sirius, the Dog Star and brightest star in the heavens, is seen. The Egyptians were knowledgeable astronomers and were the first people to have a sun year of 365 days. Across the Mediterranean Sea was Rome. Rome had a calendar that was not accurate and was always changing. Julius Caesar, an important ruler, wanted to change that with the help of a Greek scientist, named Sosigenes. Sosigenes went to Egypt where they taught him how to measure by the sun year of 365 days. We now still use the Roman calendar that the Egyptians and Sosigenes helped with. The Romans named January (the first month) after Janus, the Roman god who ruled over the gates and doors. Janus had two faces. People thought one face looked back at the old year and the other looked forward to the new.

Many settlers in America still used their old customs. The Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam liked to enjoy New Year's. They usually held open houses on New Year's Day. The men invited everyone, and the women cooked and served the food and drink. When the English came, they changed the name to New York, but kept the custom of the open house. They served pickled oysters and boned turkey, imported chocolate and most of the time, rare wine. Eggnog was one of the favorite drinks. In some parts of England eggnog was the New Year's wassail bowl. Wassail is a very old word that means good health. Before drinking, guests lifted their cups and said "Wassail." This was so everyone would have a long and healthy life.

Everyone's customs are important to them. The family next door might celebrate the Chinese New Year, and you might celebrate with an open house like the Dutch. But what if we didn't have a New Year's Day? We would have no resolutions, no goals, and no accomplishments in life. That is what really matters, that we always have a new year.