The first New Year’s Eve was celebrated by a small band of cavemen living in what would many years later be called Kenya.
“The weather was about the same on this date last year, right?” asked Thog.
“What the fuck’s a ‘year?'” said Og.
And then both of them were eaten by a sabre-toothed water buffalo, and the concept of “New Year’s” was forgotten about until people invented writing. Homo sapiens have been around for 200,000 years and were smart enough to figure out the cyclical nature of the seasons–important information if you intend on farming, which we’ve been doing for 10,000 years–but it wasn’t until six millennia ago when we made the leap to representational idiogramologies and phonemologies that humans became capable of deciding upon the exact length of a year.
(This symbol + that symbol = this sound + that sound = this word + that word = idea. That’s the Promethean event in human history, not fire.)
Once we learned to write things down, we realized two facts: the moon repeats cycles once every 28 days, and the sun and stars repeat their cycle around the sky once every 365 days. (Roughly.) This seemed meaningful, and therefore had something to do with the gods, so chickens and virgins were sacrificed. Archaeologists have found evidence that the Modrano people of southern Europe required the sacrifice to be a virgin chicken, which is a tough get. Chickens love fucking.
Very few cultures still perform ritualized acts of murder to gain favor with chance, but all cultures still do that exact thing, just metaphorically.
New Year’s does not happen in China until February, because of the time difference; they celebrate New Year’s Eve with fireworks, because the Chinese can’t get through lunch without fireworks. We get it, China: you invented fireworks. How about you invent something now, and stop pirating all of our intellectual properties?
At the stroke of midnight in Spain, twelve grapes are tossed down one’s gullet; in Portugal, twelve grapefruits are hucked at mailmen; in Peru, a llama named Esteban dances to Stevie Wonder songs.
Canada, which is almost America but not quite, observes the change in year by horking each others’ clothes, and exchanging Syrian refugees. At dawn on January 1st, all Canadians gather–like the Whos in Whoville–to sing Red Barchetta together.
On December 31st, the British pine. For lost love, days gone by, chances missed or not noticed. Youth. The British pine.
In Bhutan, the new year is associated with dogs. The story goes that on the coldest night of winter, the year was about to die of hypothermia, but his dog huddled with him until morning; from then on the days got longer and the temperatures climbed. All day, the Bhutanese drape garlands on street dogs (who are treated well the rest of the year, too) and sing to them. There is some holy muzzle-painting. The dogs have absolutely no idea what’s going on, but they always seem to enjoy the day just as much as the people do.
The women of Burkina Faso weave sorghum stalks into fans, and then the men slap the shit out of each other with them. No one looks forward to New Year’s Eve in Burkina Faso.