As we prepare to “ring in” the New Year with all sorts of revelries, like toasts, kisses, New Year’s resolutions, movie marathons, and more…have you ever wondered why none of those things ring? So why do say we’re going to “ring in” the New Year?
Back when the phrase first originated, it actually involved things that did/do ring: bells. Communities used to say goodbye to the old year & welcome the new year by ringing bells, most often at churches. The tradition sprang from other occasions where bells marked an end, like “passing bells” that tolled when someone died, or ones that celebrated a beginning (such as “wedding bells”).
Long before throngs of revelers first began filling Times Square to watch the ball drop in 1907, celebrants congregated a bit further downtown at Trinity Church on Wall Street, where they really did “ring in” the New Year with a full-blown concert by the church’s official bell ringer, who played hits of the day like ‘Hail Columbia,’ ‘Yankee Doodle’ and selections from the opera “La Fille du Regiment”. The earliest mention of the tradition, according to Trinity Church’s archives, is from the minutes of a meeting in 1801 where congregants agreed to pay eight pounds to “the Persons who rang the Bells on New Year’s Day.” It’s very possible that it could’ve been going on way before then, since the church got its first bell back in 1698.
Basically, ringing bells was, at one time, one of the primary components of the New Year’s holiday. But it’s faded from memory, and now “ring in the New Year” just doesn’t make as much sense to folks who don’t know the term’s history (which could explain why so many people now say “bring in the New Year” instead).
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