Historical New Year Stories
The excitement of New Years celebrations is one of our favourite times of the year.
However, the traditions we have today weren't the same as those that Matilda, Your Tudor Girl or Helena, Your Regency Girl, would have enjoyed.
In fact, celebrating the New Year has a rich history. This blog will explore how customs have changed from 46BC to 2022.
Ancient New Year
The earliest recordings are from the ancient Babylonian civilisations that celebrated the New Year in March. Instead of following the calendar we have now, they chose the day when there would be an equal amount of night and day.
Despite the different dates, modern traditions like making resolutions for the year ahead can be traced back.
It wasn't until 46 BC when Julius Caesar's Roman calendar marked the first day of the year as 1st January.
Tudor New Year
In Tudor times, the first day of the year was the 25th March or 'Lady Day'.
However, 1st January was also marked with gift-giving and celebrations. This was partly due to the original Roman tradition and as part of the 12 days of Christmas.
Unlike today, when Christians mainly celebrated 25th December, the Tudors celebrated the full twelve days, marking the end of four weeks of fasting.
They wouldn't be allowed to eat each meat, eggs or cheese during that time, so the twelve-day period was full of lavish meals at court.
The gifts given on 1st January were used to win the monarch's favour. If they were rejected, it was generally a sign that the giver was in trouble.
For example, in 1532, Henry VIII accepted a New Year gift from Anne Boleyn. However, he rejected that given by his wife, Katherine of Aragon.
The rejection was a sign of what was to come. Henry divorced Katherine and married Anne the following year.
If accepted, it was also customary for the monarch to give a gift in return that was more expensive than the one they received.
As Henry famously loved to hunt, in 1532, Anne's gift was a beautifully decorated 'boar spears'. In return, he brought her a matching set of gold and satin wall hangings in exchange which would have been very expensive at the time.
Click here to explore more of Tudor England with Matilda.
Georgian & Regency New Year
During the Georgian period, the date of New Years Day was changed.
In fact, the year 1752 was only 355 days long, losing 11 days in September.
It was shortened when Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar to align with the rest of Europe.
As a result, during the Georgian and Regency periods, some would refer to 6th January as 'Old Christmas Day'.
Imagine the year suddenly being shorter!
The popular New Years Eve song 'Auld Lang Syne' was also first published by the Scottish poet Robert Burns during the Georgian period and became commonplace at parties.
Modern New Year Around the World
Today, the New Year is marked with traditions all over the world.
In Britain, this includes parties, fizzy wine and fireworks over the London Eye.
In my family, we also mark 1st January by walking our dog Oreo around London's beautiful parks.
With our American roots, we also love to watch the midnight ball drop in New York.
Each tradition seems to focus on welcoming luck into the year ahead.
I love some of the other ‘good luck’ traditions, too - like how in some Spanish-speaking countries traditionally eat twelve grapes as the clock chimes for midnight. The idea is that if you time each grape perfectly, it will bring you good fortune for the year ahead, something we could all use after 2021.
In other countries like Mexico, Greece and the Netherlands, it's also common to make circular cakes as a symbol that the year has come full circle.
Whichever traditions you follow, we wish you a wonderful 2022.
If you liked this blog, click here to learn about Halloween through history.