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How Did Certain New Year’s Eve Traditions Get Started?

Nov 30, 2015 06:13PM ● Published by Charles Reichblum

At the end of this month on New Year’s Eve, many people will be singing Auld Lang Syne without knowing what the words ‘Auld Lang Syne’ mean. What do they mean—and what about some other New Year’s questions? 

Auld Lang Syne was written by Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788 and the title words mean, in Scottish dialect, ‘Old Long Since’ or, translated into modern English, ‘Days Gone By’—as we bid farewell to the old year. The song was popularized in America by Guy Lombardo in the 1930s when his orchestra played it on national radio every New Year’s Eve.

On New Year’s Eve, much of the nation’s attention will focus on Times Square in New York—but why is it called Times Square? The name has nothing to do with watching the time as the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. Times Square 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 name the square after the paper. The city agreed, and Times Square it became.

Do we have the right date for New Year’s? 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 Julian calendar and adopted the present Gregorian calendar 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. March heralds the beginning of spring—and that’s really more of a new year than January.

When is the next year that will have no odd numbers or zeros? It can’t happen in this century because all years have a zero in them, like 2015. And in the next century all years will have an odd number, the number one, as in 2115. The next time there will be a year with all even numbers and no odd numbers or zeros will be the year 2222. 


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” book series. His website is knowledgeinanutshell.com.

Education, Today Dr. Knowledge New Year's traditions
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