The History of “The New Year”

For thousands of years, New Year celebrations have changed and evolved. Some of the oldest celebrations evidently located in ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia and Egypt.

In Ancient Times

Ancient Mesopotamia celebrated the new year around the time of the vernal equinox, around March 21st. The Akkadian people, who lived in ancient Mesopotamia, celebrated the new year with a festival called Akitu. This festival included crowing a king and honoring the gods.


Ancient Egypt celebrated the new year around the time of the inundation of the Nile, which typically occurred in the month of September.

One of the most important of these was the festival of Wepet Renpet, which honored the god, Ra. During this festival, the Pharaoh would lead a procession to the temple of Ra and offer sacrifices to the god.

Other rituals and ceremonies associated with the Egyptian new year included the reading of the “Book of the Dead.” These were a collection of spells and incantations used to protect the deceased in the afterlife. There also existed an “Opening of the Mouth” ceremony. This gave the deceased the power to speak and eat in the afterlife.

The Egyptians also celebrated the new year with feasts and celebrations. They would decorate their homes and temples with flowers and other decorations. They also held large banquets in honor of the gods.


The Roman calendar, which was based on the movements of the moon, originally had only ten months. They celebrated the new year on March 1st, calling it the “New Year’s Day of the Consuls.” Later, the Romans reformulated the calendar and the new year moved to January 1st.

A variety of traditions and customs marked the Roman new year. One important tradition, the exchange of gifts, brought good luck for the coming year. The Romans would also decorate their homes with greenery and other decoration. Like the Egyptians, they also held feasts and parties to celebrate the new year.

The Roman Empire also marked the new year by performing religious rituals. The Romans believed that the gods had a special role to play in the new year. They offered sacrifices and perform other rituals to honor them.

Medieval Europe

The celebration of the New Year in Medieval Europe landed on different dates depending on the region. The British Isles celebrated the new year on March 25th, the feast of the Annunciation. For the Catholic Church, December 25th was the feast of the Nativity. They celebrated by singing Christmas carols and exchanging gifts.

Overall, the celebration of the new year in medieval Europe was a time of renewal and a time to look forward to the future. It was a time to come together with family and friends and celebrate the blessings of the past year.


In Africa, the celebration of the new year varies among different tribes and cultures. Some African tribes mark the new year as a time of renewal and celebrate with rituals, ceremonies, and feasts.

For example, the Ashanti people of Ghana celebrate the new year with the festival of Homowo, which is a time to honor their ancestors and give thanks for the blessings of the past year. During this festival, the Ashanti people hold traditional dances, perform rituals, and prepare special foods.

Other African tribes celebrate the new year with different traditions and customs. The Zulu people of South Africa mark the new year with the Umkhosi woMhlanga, or Reed Dance, which is a celebration of womanhood and fertility. The Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania celebrate the new year with the Eunoto, a rite of passage for young warriors.

Overall, the celebration of the new year in Africa is a time of renewal and a time to honor the past and look forward to the future. It is a time for families and communities to come together and celebrate the blessings of the past year.

The Modern Celebration

The modern celebration of New Year’s Day on January 1st traces back to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII implemented the calendar as a way to reform the Julian calendar which had become inaccurate over time. Presently, the Gregorian calendar is the uniform system for determining the dates of holidays and other important events.

Today, countries all over the world celebrate New Year with a variety of traditions and customs. Many countries mark New Year’s Eve with parties, fireworks, and the ringing of church bells at midnight. In other countries, New Year’s Day is a time for family gatherings and the exchange of gifts.

Updated on March 7, 2023 by Ken Cheng

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