In Egypt for example, the beginning of the year got determined by the brightest star in the sky. The phenomenon coincided with the overflow of the Nile. It was important for the fertilization of the land. The Egyptians, Phoenicians and Persians began their new year with the autumnal equinox. While the Greeks observed their new year with the winter solstice.
The celebrations, which took place in mid-March, was very important. It was a logical time to start a new year since the winter was over. At that time, the god Marduk decided the fate of the country for the following year. The Babylonian feast of the new year lasted eleven days. People took part in sacrifices, processions and rites of fertility.
For some time, the Romans also considered that the year began in March. The ancient Romans used to give each other branches of sacred trees as New Year's gifts. Later they began to give themselves walnuts covered in gold or coins with images of Janus.
The celebration of the New Year was a pagan practice and, so, the Christian Church condemned it. In 46 BCE, Emperor Julius Caesar decreed January 1, a day already dedicated to Jano (the god of the beginnings). And that thereafter it would also be the first day of the Roman calendar.
He made this decree to correct the calendar, which had gone out of sync with the sun. The date has no agricultural or seasonal meaning. Although the date changed, the carnival atmosphere remained. On January 1, people indulged in unbridled excesses as well as various superstitions.
Superstitious rites still occupy a place in the New Year celebrations. For example, in some areas of South America, people welcome the new year on the right foot. Others blow horns and throw firecrackers. According to a Czech custom, on New Year's Eve people eat lentil soup.
While a Slovak tradition says that people should put coins or fish scales under the table cloth. These rites, conceived to protect themselves from misfortunes and guarantee prosperity. It only perpetuate the old belief that the change of year is the moment in which destinies get decided.
Making New Year resolutions is as old as the celebration itself. The most popular of the Babylonians was to give back farming tools. The ancient Romans also made New Year's resolutions. The most popular being to ask for the forgiveness from their enemies.
The Anglo-Saxons, who settled down to where it is now England , had a festival called Yule. For Anglo-Saxon England, New Year's Day was on the winter solstice. It celebrated a fertile and peaceful season. The boar was part of this celebration and the people made solemn boar oaths for next year.
People performed rituals to remove the past, and at the same time to purify themselves for the new year. For example, some extinguished the fires they had used and to use new ones. The Celts celebrated their new year in autumn. It marked the end of summer and the second harvest, and the beginning of the cold and dark winter. The Celts lit sacred fires to frighten away evil spirits and honor the sun god.
The rites and customs practiced in Canaan and Syria included the New Year festivals. The Greeks learned from the Canaanites the same rites. The Greek god of wine makes his appearance on this holiday. Indeed the baby who represents the New Year is much older than it seems. In ancient Greece, during the great festival of Dionysus, a baby cradled in a basket got paraded. This was symbol of the annual (or periodical) revival of that god as the spirit of fertility.
For example, the Chinese New Year begins between January and February with the first new Moon. Buenos Aires instituted June 21 as the new year. The celebration of the Vietnamese New Year is next to the Chinese New Year. The celebration of the Tibetan New Year gets celebrated between January and March. In Thailand, Cambodia, Burma and Bengal gets celebrated between the 13 and 15 of April.
There are also the most particular practices, such as eating 12 grapes at midnight on December 31.
The New Year is notorious for its licentious, unbridled, and perverse feasts. Among the Greek gods, Kronos perpetrated innumerable human sacrifices with his mowing blade. This Greek rite of human sacrifice got adopted by ancient Rome.