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New Year's Day

New year's celebrations began taking place about 4,000 years ago, when Babylonians celebrated the new year during the first new moon after the vernal equinox, which takes place in late March. During antiquity, the first days of the new year were celebrated at different times around the world, and the day was usually tied to an agricultural or astronomical event. In 46 BCE, Julius Caesar consulted with prominent astronomers and mathematicians, and introduced the Julian calendar, which closely resembles the Gregorian calendar followed today. He made January 1 the first day of the year, partly to honor Janus, the Roman god of beginnings. At the time, the new year was celebrated by offering sacrifices to Janus, decorating homes with laurel branches, the attendance of parties, and the exchanging of gifts. During the Middle Ages, Christian leaders in Europe changed the date of New Year's celebrations to coincide with religious holidays such as Christmas and the Feast of Annunciation. In 1582, the New Year was reestablished as January 1, after the Gregorian calendar was instituted by Pope Gregory XIII. Although Catholics began celebrating the new year on this day, it took some time before some Protestant dominated countries took on the calendar and the celebrating of the holiday on January 1.

New Year's Day is a public holiday in the United States, and one of the most celebrated holidays of the year. Few have to work on the day, and government offices, organizations, businesses, and schools are closed. Most New Year's Day celebrations begin with the continuation of New Year's Eve celebrations. The new year may be rung in while attending parties or public events, where fireworks may be displayed, or an object may finish dropping as midnight strikes. The singing of "Auld Lang Syne" also traditionally starts the year, along with a toast and the kiss of a significant other. Parties may go into the wee hours of the morning. Others may stay out late while attending "Watch Night" church services.

During the day, many spend time with loved ones, or call them on the phone if they can't be with them. The day is spent reflecting on the past year, and looking ahead to the year to come. New Year's resolutions are often made, where the goal is usually to improve oneself in some way the following year. Some examples of resolutions include changing one's diet, quitting smoking, exercising more, and losing weight. Parades are often held on the day; the Rose parade in Pasadena, California, is usually a New Year's Day event. Many college football games are held, such as the Rose Bowl. Ice hockey games, most notably the Winter Classic are usually held on the day. Many gather at beaches to run in to cold water, at events that are often called polar bear plunges. Money is often raised for charity at these events. Common New Year's Day foods include circular shaped foods—which symbolize cycles, black-eyed peas, cabbage, and pork. In the southern United States, ham, cornbread, sweet potatoes,and Hoppin'John are also popular. "New Year babies" are babies born on the day. Prizes are sometimes given to the first born babies in a community, and they may appear in newspapers or on local news shows.

How to Observe New Year's Day

Start the day by ringing in the new year with the singing of "Auld Lang Syne" and a toast of champagne. After dancing the night away, sleep in late and wake yourself up by taking a polar plunge. If you are feeling less adventurous, watch some parades on television. Later, get together with family and friends and write and share your New Year's resolutions. Prepare some food and kick back to watch some college football or hockey.

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