May 28, 2018
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A new year, a new opportunity to learn you have a lot to learn

By Emmet Meara, Special to the News

Admit it. You don’t know any more words to “Auld Lang Syne” than you do to “Louie, Louie.” You hum-mumble the words to both songs. You don’t know jack about New Year’s Eve, either, even though you are still recovering from it.

The Egyptians, Persians and Phoenicians, who didn’t even know they had all that oil yet, used to have New Year’s Day in mid-March. The Greeks, who always went their own way, celebrated the new year on the winter solstice about 2,000 years ago when the drink de jour — before ouzo was invented — was a little mead, a little honey.

Our pals the Romans, who were about to invent pizza, had the holiday in mid-March, which eventually would clash with St. Patrick’s Day. Couldn’t have that. That Roman calendar had only 10 months, which meant two less rent payments and chariot payments per year.

King Numa Pompilius was a bit of a pest and had to have things his own way. Numa just had to divide the year into 12 months and moved the New Year’s party to Jan. 1, reportedly because his cousin had a catering service. Numa was alone at the party for several years until the populace reluctantly agreed to the Jan. 1 date and left March to St. Patrick.

The new date really didn’t become official until Julius Caesar said it was official, in 46 B.C. Normally you didn’t argue with Julius, unless you wanted to wrestle the lions.

It wasn’t Hallmark that decided to add a baby to the New Year’s celebration, to sell more cards. It was the Greeks, again, along about 600 B.C.

The Greeks, God love them, worshiped Dionysus, the god of wine, and celebrated his rebirth every year by parading a baby around in a wine basket. No word on how the baby felt. Early Egyptians, too, used a baby as a symbol of annual rebirth.

Early Christians, noted wet blankets, denounced the baby thing as pagan -— another word for “fun” — but the popularity of babies in general and in specific rituals forced the church to change its tune. You may have noted the use of a baby in the Christmas celebration last week. It was the Germans who developed the idea of a cherub with a banner in the 14th century to celebrate the new year, and they brought it to Colonial America, along with formidable beer-making skills.

According to, we can credit (or blame) the Dutch for our modern New Year’s Eve party celebration. About the mid-17th century, the Dutch in New Amsterdam started the holiday party to celebrate their noted love of beer and wine.

Somehow, they got along without “Auld Lang Syne” at the annual bashes until 1796 when poet Robert Burns published the song in the Scots Musical Museum. He admitted that he heard it from a shepherd in the Ayrshire area of Scotland. The shepherd got no royalties, it was reported. It is often stated that the song is the most popular song that no one has the slightest idea of the words. tells us that it means “old long since” or times gone by, and asks, for your information, whether memories of old friends and times will be retained and vows to remember people of the past with fondness and “a cup of kindness,” which gives us that excuse to get blasted each January.

Temporary kings are established on Jan. 1 in Cambodia, Thailand and Uganda. In many countries, the old year must be banished and an effigy of death made of straw, twigs or rags is paraded through the town, then is buried, drowned or burned.

In Scotland, the dummy is called the “Auld Wife,” while in other countries it is called simply “the death.”

In this country, we call it W.

Now let’s sing it, together.

“Should old acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?”

I forget the rest.

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