2008-12-26 / Community

Rockaway Not A Hotbed Of New Year's Eve Revelry

But The Evening Has A History All It's Own

New Year's Eve is December 31 of every year. It is celebrated in countries that use the Gregorian calendar with the United States, Australia, British Isles, North and South America, Europe, Scandinavia and (the former) Soviet Union as the main regions in the world that welcome in a new year.

It is exactly at the stroke of midnight on December 31 of the current year that marks the transition to the New Year ahead. Celebrations may be wild parties or solemn times of prayer. Some participants will dress up in silly outfits and wear comical hats, drink champagne (or other liquors of their choice) and use traditional items called "noisemakers" to express their joy and hope for the new year ahead. Unfortunately, with some people this celebratory behavior gets taken a bit too far. Some people have been known to make improper advances to co-workers at parties, throw their arms around total strangers on the streets or in crowds and, well, perhaps do other things that would be considered totally unacceptable any other day of the year.

And yet, there are others who attend midnight services at their church or synagogue; or, get together in large crowds such as in New York City's Times Square to watch the "ball drop." In London crowds gather in Trafalgar Square to count down the closing of the old year and welcome in the new. In Atlanta, Georgia a giant Peach is dropped. This began as a competition with New York's Apple. However, today New York now drops a laser and hand-cut crystal ball.

Some historians feel that our New Year's Eve celebrations can be traced back to an ancient Roman observance around the time of the Winter Solstice in December called "Saturnalia." This pagan holiday was known for totally letting go all discipline and rules for behavior and was known to get out of hand (just like some New Year's Eve celebrations today).

In the 18th century, New Year's Eve revelry in cities like Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore often ended with street demonstrations, violence and vandalism. Groups of men and boys were known to toot tin horns, shout, scream, yell, set off firecrackers, knock down barricades such as fences and gates, break windows and (in a few cases) burglarize the homes of some wealthy citizens in the area.

To help curb the problem of overzealous celebrators on December 31, and to protect those who want to bring in the New Year quietly, many cities in the United States started a popular trend called "The First Night" celebrations. The first "First Night" was held in Boston in 1976 to replace the boisterous partying with cultural events, performances and non-alcoholic beverages with food in an outdoor setting.

For those who prefer to have a very quiet New Year, many stay home and watch the "dropping ball" or fireworks offered on television stations locally and/or nationally or worldwide simultaneously.

Auld Lang Syne is our midinight song. The custom of singing this song on New Year's Eve goes back to the British Isles from the 18th century when guests ended a party standing in a circle and singing this song. The custom first was rooted in Scotland, because the lyrics were written in 1788 by Robert Burns, their favorite folk poet of the time. (Later on, another version of this song was used in he opera "Rosina" by William Shield.) But most musicologists feel that Auld Lang Syne came from a traditional Scottish folk melody.

What does this song mean? In the Scottish dialect, auld lang syne is "old long since" — aka "the good old days." The traditional lyrics begin with, "Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind ..." And the entire song's message merely means to just forget about the past and look ahead to the new year with hope. Even the rowdiest of parties has often ended with quiet drunks singing this song as a tribute to the past year. But many of us sing it without really knowing what we are saying. We just sing it to be part of the auld lang syne gang of the night!

Using noise to welcome in a new year goes back to ancient times when it was felt that noise scared off evil spirits. Imagine what our ancestors would have thought about all the hightech speakers, amplifiers and such today? To them, the world would be pretty pure with all this noise! But very few of us link New Year's with evil spirits (spirits that you drink perhaps, but not any other kind). Many still feel noisemakers are a must for New Year's parties. In Denmark, they "smash in the new year" by banging on the doors of their friends' homes and throwing pieces of broken pottery against the sides of the houses. Now if everyone is out doing this, then well ... hey, is anyone home to even notice? In Japan, dancers go from house to house at Oshogatsu making strange noises and rattling and pounding bamboo sticks and banging on drums.

In many parts of the US, firecrackers are set off at midnight to mark the new year.

This is also the main celebration in Viet Nam, Hawaii and South America.

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