Toastmasters: The History of New Years Holiday

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I had to give a speech at my Toastmasters class so I thought I show you some of my old speeches. I will show you my new speeches coming somewhere in January.

Submitted: October 20, 2011

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Submitted: October 20, 2011

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New Years didn’t always start on January 1st like it does here in America; in fact it was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. The Babylonian New Year began at the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, the first day of spring and their celebration lasted for eleven days. The beginning of spring is a logical time to celebrate New Years because it is the season of rebirth, planting new crops, and flowers blossoming. January 1st, on the other hand, has no astronomical and no agricultural significance. The Romans however observed their New Years holiday in late March, but various emperors kept tampering with their calendar and New Years became out of synch with the sun. A Roman Senate who wanted to set the calendar right made January 1st to be the first day of the New Year but the tampering still continued until Julius Caesar in 46 BC established what has come to be known as the Julian calendar. It again established January 1st as the New Year. But in order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for 445 days instead our normal 365 days. Although the early Romans celebrated New Years the church condemned the festivities as paganism. During the middle Ages, the Church was opposed to celebrating New Years. January 1st has been celebrated as a holiday by Western nations for only about the past 400 years. In Greece around 600 BC they used a baby as their symbol to signify New Years. It was their tradition at that time to celebrate their god of wine, Dionysus, by parading a baby in a basket, representing the annual rebirth of that god as the spirit of fertility. Although again the early Christians denounced the practice as pagan, the popularity of the baby as a symbol of rebirth forced the Church to rethink its position. The Church finally allowed its members to celebrate the New Year with a baby, which was to symbolize the birth of the baby Jesus. Other traditions of the season include the making of New Year's resolutions; its tradition also dates back to the early Babylonians. Popular modern resolutions might include the promise to lose weight or quit smoking. The early Babylonian's most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. In China children would set off fireworks like we do now. An American tradition is the ball drop. In New York they start to drop a big ball at 11:59 p.m., the Ball begins its descent as millions of voices unite to count down the final seconds of the year, and celebrate the beginning of a new year full of hopes, challenges, changes and dreams. There is also a thing called a toast to celebrate New Years at midnight; the host would drink first, to assure his guests that the wine was not poisoned. Poisoning the wine was a fairly common practice in ancient times, designed to do away with one's enemies. In those days the wine was not as refined as it is today so a square of burnt toast would be floated in the wine bowl and then eaten by the last person to drink. The bread was put there to absorb the extra acidity of the wine in order to make it more palatable. Eventually, the act of drinking in unison came to be called a toast, from the act of "toasting" or putting toast into the wine. It was once believed that when a visitor came on New Years he would either bring good luck or bad luck. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man. My tall dark-haired uncle John showed up at our doorstep on January 2nd so lucky for us! Traditional New Years foods are also thought to bring luck; many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes "coming full circle," completing a year's cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year's Day will bring good fortune. Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the New Year by consuming black-eyed peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another "good luck" vegetable that is consumed on New Year's Day by many people. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year's Day. We also have the Tournament of Roses Parade which dates back to 1886. In that year, members of the Valley Hunt Club decorated their carriages with flowers. It celebrated the ripening of the orange crop in California and following the parade we have the Rose Bowl football game. There is also a song sung on New Years called Auld Lang Syne. It is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the New Year. An old Scottish tune, "Auld Lang Syne" literally means, "The good old days."  


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