Fireworks (aka firecrackers) were invented in China in the seventh century. Historically, many cultures thought fireworks could scare off evil spirits.
According to Chinese legend, a monster called the Nian would kill villagers and destroy their homes every Chinese New Year. One year, the villagers decided it would be a good idea to leave their homes and hide from the beast. An elderly man told the fleeing villagers that he was going to stay home and get revenge against the Nian by setting out red paper and lighting fireworks. The villagers thought he was a nutty old man, but he did it anyway.
The next day, the villagers returned and saw that nothing was destroyed. They assumed the old man was a deity sent to teach them how to remain safe from the Nian and that the Nian must be afraid of loud noises and the color red. From then on, villagers wore red, hung red lanterns, and made loud noises (often with fireworks) on New Year’s Eve and the Nian never returned.
There are variations to this legend, but you get the idea.
Today, lighting fireworks on New Year’s Eve is a common custom in many countries. How it spread from China to other countries isn’t clear, but I would assume people visiting China enjoyed the fireworks display they saw and brought the idea home with them.
- The Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball was first dropped in 1907 after fireworks were banned.
- 2,000 pounds of confetti are dropped onto the crowd in Times Square (New York) at midnight.
- January is named after Janus, the god with two faces, one looking forward and one looking backward. He is the god of beginnings, transitions, doors, gates, and endings.
- Julius Caesar created a calendar with January 1st as the first month and day of the year partially to honor Janus.
- People in Italy traditionally wear red underwear on New Year’s Day to bring good luck.