Come midnight at the threshold of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, millions of people will set aside all their relationship grievances and suck face with their significant other. Alternately, they’ll make out with someone they just met. Or possibly both.
But why? When did people kissing become a New Year’s tradition?
According to Reader’s Digest, the answer partly goes back to the vice-crazed hedonists of ancient Rome. During Rome’s Saturnalia winter festival, which was observed between December 17 and December 23 and was intended to honor the agricultural god Saturn, party goers got grossly intoxicated and apparently handsy with one another (plenty of kissing included).
But Romans didn’t consider a kiss to be part of any actual tradition. That falls to the Vikings, who celebrated a winter festival called Hogmanay by wishing each other a happy new year with a kiss. These weren’t necessarily romantic exchanges but greetings to and from friends and family.
The tradition subsequently spread to the folklore of different cultures and probably came to America with the arrival of German immigrants in the 1800s. One early printed mention in 1863 of German revelers notes that “hearty kisses” were passed around at the stroke of midnight. Americans were quick to adopt it, and the kiss soon became as ubiquitous as toasting one another.
Another important reason for its popularity may have also been the advent of electricity. Gathering at midnight became more practical with the arrival of light bulbs; that, in turn, led to more merriment being spread around in general.
[h/t Reader’s Digest]
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