Traditional Roman New Year was observed in March and was known by the name of Kalends or Calends. The festivities that ran for three days saw the eradication of social status or any kind of social discrimination, and gave people the freedom to enjoy the days as is.
To mark this, it was the custom for employers to often eat together with their employees during this time. It was also a custom to take gifts for the Emperor to wish him good luck for the upcoming year. Homes and other prominent places were decorated with lights, plants and other ornamental stuff. However, since the traditional Roman calendar was being changed time and again as per the whims and wills of the Roman Emperors, the need was felt to synchronize the calendar with the solar one.
As such in the year 153 BC the Senate declared that January 1 would be celebrated as the first day of the New Year. However, even this did not prevent the Emperors from working on their whims in changing the calendars. This trend continued till the year 46 BC when Julius Caesar established the calendar system which is now known by the name of Julian calendar, which again established January 1 as the first day of the New Year.
Modern Day New Year Celebrations:
Rome is full of breathtaking and renowned monuments of historic important. These provide splendid backdrops for beautiful lighting, music and fireworks that set the mood for welcoming New Year in Rome. Many visitors from all over the world throng Rome during this time of the year for experiencing the rich culture and heritage that the country can so proudly boast of.
Locals and tourists come together and jointly give a warm welcome to the New Year. People crowd around the landmark places like the Colosseum, Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II, Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo or the Spanish Steps to mark the countdown to a brand New Year and also to experience the spectacular fireworks that create a medley of lights and colors in the night sky just as the clock strikes twelve. People often take a walk down the Via della Conciliazione to the St. Peter’s Square to enjoy live music and traditional food. Many of these historical places have rock or classical music concerts live for the occasion. The beautiful Churches display attractive traditional nativity scenes. Circus performers keep the crowd entertained.
Apart from these modern celebrations that mark the transition from one year to the next, there are other forms of traditional rituals to mark the occasion. They are –
Offerings to the Deity Janus:
For the Romans, the month of January is associated with the Deity Janus. This two faced deity is believed to represent change and new beginnings. The picture of Janus is represented as a two faced person who is looking back at the bygone, and also ahead for the upcoming. This to the Romans is the symbolic transition from the old year to the new one. People make offering to Janus on this day to pray for an overall good New Year.
Positive acts for an auspicious future:
Just like most other people round the world Romans too believe that the beginning of a New Year is the time to do way with all the ills and establish all that is good for the upcoming months. It is the time to reconcile any differences, suspend litigations and exchange gifts. Priests would bless with mistletoes for charms. Making a resolution for the New Year is also a part in the attempt to turn the New Year into a better one.
Taking Gifts for people who are influential in administration:
In ancient times it was the custom for the Roman citizens to take gifts for the Emperor on the occasion of the New Year to wish him luck, prosperity and happiness. Initially these gifts were simple ones like branches of palm leaves or a twig of bay. But as time progresses, it often became the custom to gift expensive presents. Apart from flowers and fruits, beautiful fabrics and even jewels were gifted. People also extended this gifting tradition to include the Senators, especially if they were expecting any favor from any of them. Presents of eggs were also a part of the tradition. Since eggs hatch and bring new life, there were thought of symbolizing the running over of a new leaf.
Working at least partially on the New Year’s Day:
Traditionally, the Romans believed that the first day of the New Year was indicative of the way the rest of the upcoming New Year would shape up for them. As such, although they did not want to compromise on the celebration part in any way, they do not abstain from working all day either. It is a common tradition in Rome to at least work partially on the New Year’s Day to ensure that there is work or gainful engagement for them all the year round.
First Footing is a common custom that is adhered to in many countries in Europe including Rome to welcome the New Year. It is considered to be a good omen for a tall dark haired person to enter the house first carrying gifts that have symbolic significance. A fair haired man coming to the household during that time is believed to bring bad luck stemming out of the negative feelings that were created about blonde stranger during the times of the Vikings. It is often acceptable for the First Footer to be a resident of the house, but in that case the person should not be in the house when the clock strikes twelve. The person is also supposed to bring along gifts that are symbolic. A silver coin symbolizes prosperity, bread ensures food for the family all the year round, salt keeps the year full of flavor, coal symbolizes warmth and whiskey represents cheer. These are all that a person generally would want for the family in the New Year.