New Year’s Eve superstitions and traditions have been around a long time. From cheering as the ball drops to the best movies to watch while ringing in the New Year and captions for your inevitable Champagne-toasted social media selfies, we celebrate the dawning of each new calendar year in modern, sometimes whimsical, sometimes downright zany, ways. But one New Year’s image is enduring: that of a new baby, sometimes donning a top hat and sash. Doesn’t ring a bell? Here’s everything worth wondering about the centuries-old Baby New Year.
Who Is Baby New Year?
Baby New Year is an illustration of a baby, sometimes depicted with a hat or sash, who represents the birth of the new calendar year. He is often seen alongside Father Time, the now-grown Baby New Year from the previous year. At the end of each year, Father Time bestows the wisdom and knowledge he’s learned over the course of the year to the newly born Baby New Year, who will spend the year growing and learning before passing on his knowledge as Father Time next January 1, and so forth. (Father Time is often seen with a scythe because he is based on the Roman god Saturn, who was tied to farming and was celebrated with harvest-time festivities. The scythe is a symbol of the endurance of time, which will never stop and will eventually “cut down” all living things.) Together, the illustrated figures of Baby New Year and Father Time are personifications of the passage of time giving way to the vibrancy of a brand-new year.
How Long Has Baby New Year Been Around?
Baby New Year has been in existence since roughly 600 B.C. and came about originally in ancient Greece. Every year, the Greeks celebrated Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility, and this celebration would include parading a baby through the streets in a basket, which represented Dionysus’s birth. The babe’s image was carried on in early Christian celebrations, where he also represented Baby Jesus.
By the early 1900s, Baby New Year was still going strong, even immortalized further by illustrator (and Norman Rockwell mentor) J.C. Leyendecker in a series of Saturday Evening Post New Year’s covers, from 1907 to 1943.
What About Modern Examples of Baby New Year?
The modern (at least from the standpoint of Baby New Year’s very long history) Rudolph’s Shiny New Year stop-motion animated film (1976) has Father Time and Santa Claus teaming up to recover an escaped Baby New Year named Happy, who runs away after getting his feelings hurt when jokes are made about the size of his ears (even adorable, lucky New Year babies have feelings!).
Some towns have a tradition of dubbing the first baby born after 11:59 p.m. “Baby New Year,” while some companies like to gift free marketing products to the first baby born after the clock strikes midnight.
For 16 years, Jax Brewery in New Orleans played “babysitter” to a papier-mâché Baby New Year.
And for the country music lovers, Willie Nelson has included a Baby New Year in his New Year’s Eve festivities in numerous past events.