LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — What has become an annual tradition in Las Vegas, across the nation, and worldwide began at least 4,000 years ago.
A celebration to honor a new year goes back in recorded history to ancient Babylon. It has been reported that the Babylonians celebrated the new moon following the vernal equinox which is a day in late March. This was their new year.
For the Babylonians, their celebration was called Akitu. A word that comes from the Sumerian word for barley. Atiku was celebrated for at least 23 days, 11 days on either side of the new moon.
As calendars evolved over the centuries, celebrations of a new year began revolving more around growing seasons and astronomical events. One example would be in Egypt where the New Year began when the Nile started an annual flood which happened at the same time as the star Sirius began rising.
Not all history is in agreement. Britannica, the encyclopedia publisher, says “for the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians the year began with the autumn equinox (September 21), and for the early Greeks, it began with the winter solstice (December 21). On the Roman republican calendar, the year began on March 1, but after 153 BCE the official date was January 1, which was continued in the Julian calendar of 46 BCE.”
It wasn’t until the middle ages when Christian Europe moved away from celebrating the new year on March 25 to celebrate it on Dec. 25 in England. In the 16th century, it was finally the 1582 Gregorian calendar, developed by the Roman Catholic Church, restored January 1 as New Year’s Day.
Other European countries gradually adopted this calendar: Scotland, in 1660; Germany and Denmark, around 1700; England, in 1752; and Russia, in 1918.
In the United States, the tradition of a ball drop to mark the new year came from sailors who would adjust timepieces by watching a ball drop on shore at a specific time. These ball drops were done all along the American coast to aid mariners.
It was one of these time balls that became the inspiration for Walter Palmer. According to PBS, Palmer was a New York Times’ chief electrician, who copied the maritime timekeeping ritual as a unique finale to the city’s end-of-the-year party. In 1904 New York’s part for the new year was moved to the New York Times building at 46th Street and Broadway, now simply known as Times Square.