New Year: But where does it come from? 1You might be wondering what that has to do with New Year or the English language – well read on and you’ll find out why Homer Simpson’s love of donuts may be his personal ‘lucky charm‘.

First, Happy New Year to all of our listeners, readers, members of English4Today and English4Today students.

When you’ve grown up in a Western culture, you probably think that New Year’s Day on January 1st is a pretty universal festival. After all, January 1st is the same all over the world so the new year starts at the same time everywhere. Well, in one sense this is true as the Gregorian Calendar (the 12 month calendar we now use) is used all over the world for commercial, transport and communications purposes. But a lot of cultures still keep a place for their own calendar and most of us know that Chinese New Year, for example, does not fall on the same day as the Gregorian Calendar proscribes and that the Chinese New Year festival is a party worth getting an invitation to.

Celebration of the new year is probably one of the oldest festivals around dating back to around 2000 BC when the Babylonians celebrated the new year at the start of Spring (the Vernal equinox). Spring seems a good time to start a new year but the Romans clearly didn’t feel that this worked for them and in 153 BC the Roman Senate set January 1st as the start of a New Year where it has stayed ever since.

The Romans changed the time of year when the new year started but they hung on to some important traditions that we still continue with today. The New Year’s resolution – an undertaking to do something positive in the coming year – dates back to the Babylonians. Typically, we now make resolutions to do things like give up smoking, lose weight or become better people and typically these resolutions are pretty much forgotten about by the start of February when we fall back into our habitual patterns of behaviour.

Wishing others good luck, or wishing it for yourself is also part of the New Year tradition and we’ve carried through to the present some of the symbols of luck, usually in the form of a ring or circle as it symbolizes ‘coming full circle‘, that is, completing a year’s cycle. The Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Day will bring good fortune and the French have a special King’s Cake which is in the form of a circle and that has a small lucky token baked into it. It was also once believed that the first visitor on New Year’s Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the rest of the year.

So, that said, grab a few lucky donuts, have a Happy New Year, and I’m looking forward to sharing another great 12 months with you.

New Year’s Words and Words used in this posting:

  • resolution : an undertaking or promise (usually to oneself) to do something positive in the coming year
  • luck : good fortune arriving by chance
  • Gregorian Calendar : The modern calendar adapted from the Julian Calendar, conceived by the Roman’s, which fixes New Year’s day on the 1st January
  • Happy New Year! : traditional saying during the New Year holiday
  • donut : round, sweet bun usually deep-fried and coated with sugar
  • Homer Simpson : famous television cartoon character
  • lucky charm : a small object that the owner believes will bring them good luck