From the Master of Kadosh (January, 2014)

posted May 30, 2015, 4:10 PM by San Jose Scottish Rite   [ updated May 30, 2015, 4:10 PM ]
New Year’s celebrations are definitely not “new”. Festivals marking the beginning of the calendar have existed for millennia, and a few are still actively observed by millions of people around the world. 
After the first new moon after the vernal equinox in March, the Babylonians of ancient Mesopotamia honored the rebirth of the natural world with the multi-day festival of Akitu, an early New Year’s celebration dating back to around 2000 B.C., which was deeply intertwined with religion and mythology.
The Roman New Year also originally corresponded with the vernal equinox, but years of tampering with the solar calendar resulted in the holiday being established on its current date of January 1.  The name was derived from the two-faced deity Janus, the god of change and beginnings, symbolically looking back at the old and ahead to the new, thus facilitating the transition of one year to the next.
Ancient Egyptian culture, closely tied to the Nile River, saw their New Year tied with its annual flood which helped ensure that farmlands remained fertile for the coming year. It was predicted when Sirius—the brightest star in the night sky—first became visible after a 70-day absence, usually in mid-July.      This new beginning was celebrated with a festival and was seen as a time of rebirth and rejuvenation, honored with feasts and special religious rites.  One of the oldest traditions  still celebrated today is Chinese New Year, which is believed to have originated over 3,000 years ago during the Shang Dynasty. The holiday began as a way of celebrating the new beginnings of the spring planting season, but it later became entangled with myth and legend. According to one popular tale, there was once a bloodthirsty creature called Nian, that preyed on villages every New Year. In order to frighten the hungry beast, the villagers took to decorating their homes with red trimmings, burning bamboo and making loud noises. The ruse worked. The bright colors & lights associated with scaring off Nian eventually became integrated into the celebration.
Still celebrated in Iran and other parts of the Middle East and Asia, and often called the “Persian New Year”, the roots of Nowruz (or “New Day”) reach far back into antiquity. Ancient observances of Nowruz focused on the rebirth that accompanied the return of spring. This 13-day spring festival falls on or around the vernal equinox in March. It originated as part of the Zoroastrian religion in Iran. Its celebration dates back to the 6th century B.C. and has survived numerous cultural changes. Monarchs would use the holiday to host lavish banquets, dispense gifts and hold audiences with their subjects.  
In our modern era and in connection with a Scottish background if not the Rite itself, Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year in the Scottish manner. However, it is normally only the start of a celebration that lasts through the night until the morning of New Year's Day, January 1.
There are many customs, both national and local, associated with Hogmanay. The most widespread national custom is the practice of first-footing, which starts immediately after midnight. This involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbor and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts, intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts) are then given to the guests. The first-foot is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year. 
The Hogmanay custom of singing "Auld Lang Syne" has become common in many countries. "Auld Lang Syne" is a Scots poem reinterpreted by Robert Burns in 1788 and later set to the tune of a traditional folk song (Roud # 6294). Burns sent a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum with the remark, "The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man."  Some of the lyrics were indeed "collected" rather than composed by the poet; the ballad "Old Long Syne" shown below, was printed in 1711 by James Watson and shows considerable similarity in the first verse and the chorus to Burns' later poem, and is almost certainly derived from the same "old song".

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot, and never thought upon; 
The flames of Love extinguished, and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold, that loving Breast of thine;  
That thou canst never once reflect On Old long syne.    

On Old long syne my Jo, On Old long syne, That thou canst never once reflect, On Old long syne.

It is a fair supposition to attribute the rest of the poem to Burns himself. 
There is some doubt as to whether the melody used today is the same one Burns originally intended, but it is widely used in Scotland and in the rest of the world. Singing the song on Hogmanay or New Year's Eve very quickly became a Scots custom that soon spread to other parts of the British Isles. As Scots (not to mention English, Welsh and Irish people) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them. A manuscript of "Auld Lang Syne" is held in the permanent collection of The Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. 
Thanks for reading this far and now I would like to leave you with a bit of dry humor. Though not originated by me, I like it and it is also somewhat germane to the discussion of New Years’ celebrations. This was given to me by my daughter Wyndie for our use and enjoyment.
What happened when Past, Present and Future walked into a bar? ……………….
It was tense!
I sincerely hope each of you and your families had and/or will have a happy and safe New Years Eve, Day and on throughout  the  coming months.  

Gerald R. Best  32n° KCCH — Master of Kadosh
Portions of the body of this article have been excerpted and/or edited from articles in Wikipedia and other sources not cited.  I gratefully acknowledge those authors and their work.