Sunday, December 25, 2011


The first New Year's Eve celebration in America was held in 1904. The New York Times newspaper had opened their new headquarters on Longacre Square (the city's second tallest building), and persuaded the city to rename the triangular "square" surrounding it for the newspaper. The newspaper's owner, Adolph Ochs, decided to celebrate the move with a midnight fireworks show on the building for New Year's Eve. Close to 200,000 attended the event, displacing celebrations held at Trinity Church. However, Adolph wanted a bigger spectacular at the building to draw more attention to the square. In 1907, an iron and wood was constructed and was lit with one hundred 25-watt bulbs, weighed 700 pounds and measured 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter. At first, it dropped 1 second after midnight. Even after the Times moved its headquarters to 229 W. 43rd St., the celebration continued.

The Ball received its first upgrade in 1920, replaced by one made of Iron, now only weighing 400 pounds, it would then be replaced by an 150 pounds aluminum ball in 1955. During World War II, the descending of the Ball was stopped due to wartime lighting restrictions in case of enemy attack. Celebrants observed a moment of silence at midnight, followed by chimes. From 1981 to 1988, the Ball would be decorated in honor of the I Love New York campaign, with red bulbs and a green stem to give it the appearance of an apple. The original white bulbs would return in 1989, but replaced for 1991 with red, white, and blue bulbs to salute the troops of Operation Desert Shield.

It was revamped again in 1995, adding rhinestone, and a computerized lighting system featuring strobe lights. This ball would be used for the remainder of the decade. For the new millennium, an entirely new ball would debut. Weighing 1,070 pounds and measuring 6 feet in diameter, it would be covered with 504 crystal triangles (provided by Waterford Crystal), illuminated externally with 168 halogen light bulbs and internally with 432 light bulbs of clear, red, blue, green and yellow colors, along with strobe lights and spinning mirrors. Many of the triangles are inscribed with messages of a certain theme, such as "Hope for Fellowship," "Hope for Wisdom," "Hope for Unity," "Hope for Courage," "Hope for Healing," and "Hope for Abundance. On December 31, 2006, this ball was droppd for the last time.

In honor of the Ball Drop's 100th anniversary, another new ball debuted for 2008. While still manufactured by Waterford Crystal (and weighing 1,212 pounds, it now uses LED lighting provided by Philips (which can produce over 16.7 million colors, and programmed for more advanced patterns and effects, designed by local firm Focus Lighting) instead of halogen bulbs. The ball features 9,567 energy-efficient bulbs that consume the same amount of electricity as only ten toasters. For 2009, the design was maintained as a icosahedral geodesic sphere, but doubled in size to 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter with a weight of 11,875 pounds. To accommodate the new ball (which is also now displayed year-round), the flagpole atop of One Times Square was rebuilt and enlarged, now rising 475 feet above Times Square.

Sound effects during the countdown debuted in 1998. Every year had different sound effects except for 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 ball drops, which used the same exact sounds. The current clock-ticking debuted in 2003 and has been used since then for every single countdown.

A History of New Years

In 46 B.C.E. the Roman emperor Julius Caesar first established January 1 as New Year's day. Janus was the Roman god of doors and gates, and had two faces, one looking forward and one back. Caesar felt that the month named after this god ("January") would be the appropriate "door" to the year. Caesar celebrated the first January 1 New Year by ordering the violent routing of revolutionary Jewish forces in the Galilee. Eyewitnesses say blood flowed in the streets. In later years, Roman pagans observed the New Year by engaging in drunken orgies - a ritual they believed constituted a personal re-enacting of the chaotic world that existed before the cosmos was ordered by the gods.

As Christianity spread, pagan holidays were either incorporated into the Christian calendar or abandoned altogether. By the early medieval period most of Christian Europe regarded Annunciation Day (March 25) as the beginning of the year. (According to Catholic tradition, Annunciation Day commemorates the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary that she would be impregnated by God and conceive a son to be called Jesus.)

After William the Conqueror (AKA "William the Bastard" and "William of Normandy") became King of England on December 25, 1066, he decreed that the English return to the date established by the Roman pagans, January 1. This move ensured that the commemoration of Jesus' birthday (December 25) would align with William's coronation, and the commemoration of Jesus' circumcision (January 1) would start the new year - thus rooting the English and Christian calendars and his own Coronation). William's innovation was eventually rejected, and England rejoined the rest of the Christian world and returned to celebrating New Years Day on March 25.

About five hundred years later, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII (AKA "Ugo Boncompagni", 1502-1585) abandoned the traditional Julian calendar. By the Julian reckoning, the solar year comprised 365.25 days, and the intercalation of a "leap day" every four years was intended to maintain correspondence between the calendar and the seasons. Really, however there was a slight inaccuracy in the Julian measurement (the solar year is actually 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds = 365.2422 days). This slight inaccuracy caused the Julian calendar to slip behind the seasons about one day per century. Although this regression had amounted to 14 days by Pope Gregory's time, he based his reform on restoration of the vernal equinox, then falling on March 11, to the date had 1,257 years earlier when Council of Nicaea was convened (March 21, 325 C.E.). Pope Gregory made the correction by advancing the calendar 10 days. The change was made the day after October 4, 1582, and that following day was established as October 15, 1582. The Gregorian calendar differs from the Julian in three ways: (1) No century year is a leap year unless it is exactly divisible by 400 (e.g., 1600, 2000, etc.); (2) Years divisible by 4000 are common (not leap) years; and (3) once again the New Year would begin with the date set by the early pagans, the first day of the month of Janus - January 1.

On New Years Day 1577 Pope Gregory XIII decreed that all Roman Jews, under pain of death, must listen attentively to the compulsory Catholic conversion sermon given in Roman synagogues after Friday night services. On New Years Day 1578 Gregory signed into law a tax forcing Jews to pay for the support of a "House of Conversion" to convert Jews to Christianity. On New Years 1581 Gregory ordered his troops to confiscate all sacred literature from the Roman Jewish community. Thousands of Jews were murdered in the campaign.

Throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods, January 1 - supposedly the day on which Jesus' circumcision initiated the reign of Christianity and the death of Judaism - was reserved for anti-Jewish activities: synagogue and book burnings, public tortures, and simple murder.

The Israeli term for New Year's night celebrations, "Sylvester," was the name of the "Saint" and Roman Pope who reigned during the Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.). The year before the Council of Nicaea convened, Sylvester convinced Constantine to prohibit Jews from living in Jerusalem. At the Council of Nicaea, Sylvester arranged for the passage of a host of viciously anti-Semitic legislation. All Catholic "Saints" are awarded a day on which Christians celebrate and pay tribute to that Saint's memory. December 31 is Saint Sylvester Day - hence celebrations on the night of December 31 are dedicated to Sylvester's memory.