Being born on New Year's Day can bring you fame and a little bit of luck—that is, if you’re first and at the right hospital.
It’s not clear precisely when newspapers and television broadcasts began announcing the arrival of the year’s first babies. But the image of a baby representing a fresh start dates back to ancient Greece. Each year, Greeks celebrated the rebirth of Dionysus, the god of fertility and wine. Part of the festivities included placing a baby in a basket and parading the infant through town.
While there are fewer (if any) baby parades now, there’s still a ton of emphasis on the tiny face of a new year. Between 1906 and 1943, The Saturday Evening Post featured its own rendition of the New Year baby on every first-of-the-year issue. And classic films like Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976) reinforced the tiny icon’s popularity while showing just how hard New Year babies have it (hint: they get a lot of attention).
So, it’s no wonder that being the first baby born in a given year is a pretty big deal. And maybe that’s why some New Year’s babies have scored prizes, scholarships, and free meals for their parents. While it’s not a universal rule that the first baby born on January 1 gets gifts, it’s been a common marketing tool for businesses to donate prizes to the newly birthed for decades.
Take Bonnie Lee Little from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who won a bundle of gifts for being born right after midnight on January 1, 1960. But not all those gifts were for her. Along with gift certificates to local stores, a crib mattress, and a comb and brush set, Little’s parents also received “two deluxe dinners” at a nearby Italian restaurant, 14 dozen doughnuts, and $10. In 2007, Toys "R" Us held a "First Baby of the Year Sweepstakes" in the U.S. with a $25,000 savings bond prize. Diapers.com gave away a year’s worth of free diapers to the first baby of 2015 born in New York City, along with a free cab ride home. Car seats, strollers, and gift cards are also common gifts. In some regions, hospitals will release New Year babies with gift baskets or certificates for things they’ll need during their 12-month reign as New Year's royalty.
But those gifts are tame compared to the pandemonium of potentially having a globally famous millennium baby. In 1999, a British TV show Birthrace 2000 featured families looking to bring home the first baby of the new century. Some baby stores even sold $50 “Millennium Conception Kits” to help couples aim for the perfect date (March 25 through April 1, 1999, was considered the prime window for conceiving a millennium New Year baby).
So, what about babies that just miss the midnight delivery? There’s still a prize for parents in the form of a tax deduction for the year. While the 2000 New Year's baby competition seemed intense, some doctors say their patients aren’t overly concerned with precisely meeting the midnight deadline because there’s no exact way to know if a baby is truly first. Larger cities with multiple hospitals often have several New Year's babies with no clear winner, and it's nearly impossible to determine a national first baby. But, that doesn’t mean being a New Year's newborn is normal—the odds of having a baby within the first minute of the ball drop is close to that of being struck by lightning.
As for babies born first in coming years, they could be a little less famous. Many hospitals are nixing the New Year's publicity as a safety precaution against increasing child abductions. Instead, some families have to contact news stations on their own. But that doesn’t mean the New Year's birth tradition isn’t something to strive for—babies born on the first day of the year supposedly have the best luck throughout their long lives.