How Much Do You Know About New Year’s Customs?

Test your knowledge of the history of these six traditions.

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1. The Resolutions

This ritual goes back thousands of years. Ancient Babylonians celebrated the new year on the first new moon after the spring equinox. It was a major festival that lasted 11 days and involved swearing an oath to the king. 

2. The Big Bang

Fireworks were invented in ancient China, where they were made from dried bamboo stalks. The stalks were later filled with gunpowder (also invented in China) to boost the explosive impact. 

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3. The Bubbly

Drinking Champagne – which sorry, France, some believe was created in England, where the technology for bottled carbonated drinks was invented in the 1500s – to toast the new year became popular because of the firework-like sound the bottle makes when uncorking it. 

4. That Catchy Song 

The tradition of singing the Scottish folk tune “Auld Lang Syne” – which loosely translates to “Days Gone By” – at the stroke of midnight was popularized by the 1930s big band Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, who regularly performed it on New Year’s Eve. 

5. The Ball Drop

It was 1907 when the New Year’s Eve ball was first dropped from the flagpole atop One Times Square. It has been dropped every year since then except in 1942 and 1943, due to wartime light dimouts.  

6. That Chilly Charge into Lake Michigan

The history of brave Milwaukeeans flinging themselves into our frigid Great Lake on New Year’s Day dates to 1911, when two locals started the tradition. The Polar Bear Plunge gradually grew in popularity. The custom continues to this day at the same place and time: Bradford Beach at noon. 


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s December issue.

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.