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The History of New Year's Eve By History.com, adapted by Newsela staff on 12.14.16 Word Count 556 Level 730L TOP: Fireworks light the sky over the Bolshoy Kamenny bridge with Red Square and the Kremlin Palace in the background during New Year's celebrations on January 1, 2016, in Moscow, Russia. BOTTOM: New Year's Eve in Times Square, New York City. Photo: Anthony Quintano for NBC Social Media. People have been celebrating the start of each new year for at least 4,000 years. Today, most New Year's Day celebrations begin on December 31 which is New Year's Eve. They continue into the early hours of January 1 which is New Year's Day. Celebrations usually include parties and fireworks. People often make resolutions for the new year. Early New Year's celebrations The earliest New Year's Day celebrations were held about 4,000 years ago. They took place in Babylon, an ancient kingdom in the Middle East. Today it is known as Iraq. The Babylonians waited for the vernal equinox. This is the day in late March with an equal amount of day and night. The first new moon after the equinox marked the beginning of a new year. The Babylonians celebrated the occasion with a giant festival called Akitu. It lasted 11 days. Over time, people around the world developed new calendars. They usually made the first day of the year the same day as an important natural event. For example, in Egypt the year began with This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com. the flooding of the Nile River. This happened around the same time every year. In China, the new year started with the second new moon after the shortest day of the year. The shortest day is known as the winter solstice. January 1 becomes New Year's Day The early Roman calendar had 10 months and 304 days. Each new year began at the vernal equinox. Later, a Roman ruler added two more months to the calendar. Over the years, the calendar eventually fell out of sync with the sun. Roman ruler Julius Caesar decided to solve this problem by meeting with the most important scientists of his time. He came up with a new calendar. It was known as the Julian calendar. It is very similar to the Gregorian calendar that most countries use today. Caesar also made January 1 the first day of the year. Romans celebrated it by honoring Janus, the god of beginnings. They traded gifts and decorated their homes. They also held huge parties. New Year's traditions In many countries, New Year's Day celebrations begin on the evening of December 31. They continue into the early hours of January 1. People often enjoy foods thought to bring good luck in the coming year. In Spain, people eat 12 grapes right before midnight. The grapes stand for their hopes for the coming months. In the Netherlands, Mexico, Greece and elsewhere, people eat cakes shaped like rings. These stand for the year coming full circle. In Sweden and Norway, people eat rice pudding on New Year's Eve. An almond is hidden inside the pudding. Whoever finds the nut is said to receive 12 months of good luck. Other customs include watching fireworks and singing songs. In some places people make resolutions for the new year. These are promises about what they will or will not do. Making resolutions is thought to have begun with the ancient Babylonians. They made promises in order to make the gods happy. In the United States, the most famous New Year's Eve event is the dropping of a giant ball. This happens in New York City's Times Square at midnight. Millions of people around the world watch the event. It has taken place almost every year since 1907. This article is available at 5 reading levels at https://newsela.com.