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Has January 1 Always Been New Year’s Day?

Dec 01, 2014 10:26AM ● Published by Charles Reichblum

Surprisingly, January 1 has not always been the date for New Year’s in America. Before 1752, England and the English colonies, of which America was then one, celebrated New Year’s on March 25.

It wasn’t changed to January 1 until England and its colonies scrapped the old Roman calendar and adopted the present Gregorian calendar that we use today. In 1752, America celebrated New Year’s on January 1 for the first time.

When you stop to think about it, maybe that old March 25 date for New Year’s was more logical, after all. March heralds the beginning of spring—and that’s really more of a new year than January.

So what are some different ways that people around the world celebrate the New Year?
  • In Spain, people eat 12 grapes at midnight. The tradition is meant to symbolize 12 happy months in the coming year. 
  • An old custom of the Dutch is to eat a doughnut. Doughnuts are considered good luck because their round shape symbolizes life coming full circle, leading to good fortune.
  • The Chinese bring in their New Year with fireworks, based on the theory that firecrackers will scare away evil spirits and misfortune in the coming months.
  • The Swiss take spoonfuls of whipped cream to symbolize the hoped-for richness of the New Year.
  • In Japan, it is customary to wear new clothes for good luck in the New Year.
In America, we focus our attention on Times Square on New Year’s Eve—but why is it called Times Square?

The name Times Square has nothing to do with watching the time as the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. It was originally called Longacre Square, but in 1904, the New York Times newspaper made a deal with the city of New York. They said they’d move to a new building at that location if the city would agree to change the name of the square, naming it after the New York Times. The city agreed, and Times Square it became.  

(Dr. Knowledge is heard on KDKA and the CBS radio network with his “Knowledge in a Nutshell” feature, and is author of the “Knowledge in a Nutshell” and “Dr. Knowledge Presents…” book series).

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