One can trace New Year celebrations back to the ancient Babylon era, almost 4000 years back. Therefore, it is believed to be one of the oldest holidays celebrated by the human race. Most of the modern traditions, superstitions and symbols related to this occasion find their roots in ancient belief systems and philosophies. Like almost all other holidays, New Year also has certain special traditional objects related to its celebrations that have come to symbolize this joyous occasion. Through these wonderful symbols, one is able to garner the meaning behind the festivities of this day and its importance. It is believed that these symbols are harbingers of good luck as well as prosperity and drive away bad spirits, so that the coming New Year is filled with happiness for all. Some of the most significant traditional symbols associated with New Year are mentioned herein.
The Yule Log is one of the key symbols of New Year's revelry. It is looked upon as a sign that light shall triumph over all darkness. The log is kept in the fireplace after it is festooned with great care by the family members. This gives the entire celebrations a traditional festive touch. The ornamentation of the log is done with soft red ribbons and shimmering streamers. As far as the age old custom goes, the log should burn for one whole night and then smolder for twelve days, which represents twelve months of the year and only then should be put out, that too through a proper ceremony.
The concept of time has been humanized in the form of Father Time, an elderly white-bearded man dressed in a white robe, who wears a sash across his chest that has a figure of the passing year printed on it. To further enhance the symbolism, he carries an hourglass or a clock in one hand and a scythe in the other. This personification of Father Time is based on various sources, such as Chronos - the Greek God of time and the Holly King - the Celtic God of the dying year. It is believed that on New Year's Eve, Father Time passes on the baton of time keeping to the Baby New Year, which signifies the approaching year. Baby New Year is represented by an infant; thus, both of them together connote the cycle of death and birth.
Baby New Year
The image of a baby with a New Year banner has been used as a symbol of the beginning of a fresh year by Germans since 14th century and was brought to America by them. However, the roots of this tradition can be traced back to 600 BC in ancient Greece, where to celebrate New Year, people paraded a baby in a basket, who was believed to represent god of wine, Dionysus. Ancient Egyptians also believed that babies represented rebirth. This practice was condemned early on by Christians as part of the pagan faith. However, its popularity made them rethink their stand and later, the church allowed its members to celebrate this day with a baby, who came to represent the birth of the baby Jesus.
Beautifully crafted glowing candles are an everlasting traditional symbol of New Year and are used on a large scale in New Year decorations; thus, they make a central figure in most New Year greeting cards. It is said that the custom of lighting candles began as people not only believed them to be auspicious, but also thought that their smoke would reach heavens and all their prayers said over the flame of the candle would be answered by God. In contemporary era, candles have become more of a symbol of good cheer and warmth that enhance the festive atmosphere.
Roman God Janus
Another intriguing symbol of New Year is the Roman God Janus, whom Romans dedicated 1st of January. This god has a peculiar appearance with two faces. One face looks forwards while the other looks backward. The Romans believed that the backward looking face of the god signifies the bygone year, whereas the forward looking face is a symbol of the approaching year. Thus, Janus is said to be the god of ending as well as new beginnings.
Special Food Items and Mistletoes
Some food items, like grapes, lentils, nuts, pomegranates etc. are considered quite lucky and eaten with great relish around the world on New Year's Eve. The grapes and lentils are believed to bring prosperity. Hence, eating grapes on this occasion is a favorite custom in various European countries, like Greece and Italy. On the other hand, pomegranates are eaten to signify abundance and fertility on New Year's Eve. Mistletoes are thought of as a good luck charm and hence, are used as major components of New Year decoration
Symbols of New Year help one connect with the deeper meaning of this spectacular occasion.