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IntroductionEditor’s Note: This article was updated on Dec. 30, 2017
Whether you’re celebrating in New York City or Nashville, Tennessee, New Year’s Eve follows a pretty similar script: People dress up in their best duds, break out the bubbly and sing "Auld Lang Syne" at the stroke of midnight. If it’s a particularly rowdy party, some things may explode.
But how exactly did these traditions arise?
Many of these rituals have ancient roots and are similar around the world. It turns out that many are designed to ward off evil spirits as we enter the darkest time of the year, said Anthony Aveni, an astronomer and anthropologist at Colgate University in New York, and the author of "The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays," (Oxford University Press, 2004).
"This is a transitional period," Aveni told Live Science. "I’m looking at my window at all the snow. The worst of it is just beginning because it’s winter. The sun goes away, and when the sun goes away we have to get it back; we have all these rituals designed to get the sun back."
From popping open a bottle of champagne to watching the ball drop in Times Square, here are the roots of 10 New Year’s Eve traditions. [10 Christmas Traditions from Around the World]
Smooch your sweetieSlide 2 of 21
Smooch your sweetie
Puckering up at the stroke of midnight is a venerable tradition with ancient roots. Many cultures considered the transition from the warm to the cold seasons to be an intensely vulnerable time, when evil spirits could run amok, Aveni said.
Many of our traditions, including kissing, originally come from the English tradition of "saining," or offering blessing or protection, during the period of Yuletide, Aveni said. (Yuletide was originally a pre-Christian Germanic festival that eventually became synonymous with Christmastide in Europe.)
Kissing, in this context, was thought to bring good luck as people entered the vulnerable, transitional period of the new year, Aveni said.
"You want to be closest to those who support you," Aveni told Live Science.Slide 3 of 21
Bubbly luxurySlide 4 of 21
Popping champagne corks at the stroke of midnight is a mainstay on New Year’s Eve, whether at swanky parties or home celebrations. In general, overindulgence and excess are hallmarks of New Year’s celebrations around the world, Aveni said.
But when exactly did the peach-colored, bubbly beverage become synonymous with New Year’s Eve?
Despite its French name, champagne’s signature fizz traces its origins back to England in the 1500s, according to "Wine Science: Principles and Applications" (Academic Press, 2008), Live Science previously reported. [Champagne Facts for the New Year (Infographic)]
At that point, people figured out how to create bubbly bottled drinks. In 1662, Christopher Merret reported to the Royal Society of London that adding sugar to bottled wine created a fizzy beverage, thanks to the yeast in the wine, which consumed the sugar to produce carbon dioxide. It took about a century to perfect the fermentation technique, however, according to Imbibe Magazine.
The use of champagne for celebrations has its roots in the Christian ritual of consuming wine during the Eucharist as the blood of Christ. In A.D. 496, a wine from the Champagne region of France was used in the baptism of the Frankish warrior Clovis, according to champagne.fr, a website run by the Champagne Committee of France. From then on, wines from the Champagne region were often used at such religious events as consecrations, and at coronations and soirees, according to the website.
"After the French Revolution, it became a part of the secular rituals that replaced formerly religious rituals," Kolleen Guy, associate professor of history at the University of Texas at San Antonio and author of "When Champagne Became French" (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), previously told Live Science. "You could 'christen a ship' without a priest, for example, by using the 'holy water' of champagne," Guy said.
By 1789, the French had taken the two elements — the bubbles and their prized Champagne-region wine — and put the two together for royal parties and celebrations. Champagne, however, didn’t become the ultimate New Year’s celebration beverage until producers of champagne tried to link the bubbly to festive occasions with family, and the rise of the middle class increased the purchasing power of ordinary people, according to Imbibe Magazine.Slide 5 of 21
"Auld lang syne"Slide 6 of 21
"Auld lang syne"
Another classic tradition is to sing "Auld Lang Syne," a Scottish poem that was recorded on paper officially in 1788 by the Scottish poet Robert Burns, according to Scotland.org. The melody itself, however, is a much older folk song that was known in Scotland, and the Scottish Museum set Burns’ words to the tune when he sent it in, according to the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
"There is an old song and tune which has often thrilled through my soul," Burns said in reference to the popular melody in his 1788 letter, according to the Burns encyclopedia.
Burns admitted to drawing inspiration for "Auld Lang Syne" from an old man he heard singing the song, and other variants of the song had appeared earlier in the 1700s.
In English, the literal translation of Auld Lang Syne is "old long times," but it means something more along the lines of "once upon a time." With its touch of nostalgia, it soon became a mainstay at British and Scottish funerals, farewells and group celebrations. It didn’t make it across the pond as a New Year's tradition until 1929, however, when the Guy Lombardo orchestra played it at a hotel in New York, Live Science previously reported.Slide 7 of 21
Dropping the ballSlide 8 of 21