WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — All around the world, people are preparing for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

From small towns to major cities like New York, millions will gather, and many will participate in traditions to ring in the new year. Some of these traditions are fairly new, others quite old, and some are actually inextricably tied to American history.

Black-eyed peas (and greens) and Watch Night

Some families eat just soup made with black-eyed peas, while others eat Hoppin’ John: black-eyed peas and greens (collard, turnip, or otherwise). This particular American tradition has its roots in southern cooking.

It can be traced to South Carolina. Although the dish is a melding of African and European cuisine, we can actually trace specifically when it became a New Year’s tradition.

It is tied directly to the first Watch Night. Dec. 31, 1862, enslaved and freed Africans gathered, many in secret because it was illegal, for a celebration. At the stroke of midnight, the Emancipation Proclamation would go into effect, and they would be free.

According to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, West African cultures saw greens as a symbol of prosperity, and black-eyed peas should bring good luck. Accounts of that first Watch Night include that Hoppin’ Johns was served.

As time passed, Watch Night spread beyond African congregations, along with the tradition of eating greens and black-eyed peas for prosperity and good luck.

Auld Lang Syne

In an article I posted earlier this week, I wrote extensively about the origins of this song. It first came to America through Scottish immigrants who traditionally sang it during their New Year’s celebrations called Hogmanay.

Big band leader Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians are credited with making Auld Lang Syne synonymous with New Year’s Eve in North America. They performed it live over the radio and eventually on television yearly, starting in 1929 during what became their annual New Year’s Eve concert in New York City.

Kissing at Midnight

Anthropologists haven’t reached a consensus on whether or not kissing is an instinctual or learned behavior. There are strong arguments it is instinctual since other primates display the behavior. However, there are also cultures where kissing simply doesn’t exist at all.

One argument for it being a learned behavior is from the late anthropologist Vaughn Bryant of Texas A&M, who said the first recorded accounts of kissing are from Sanskrit and involved pressing and rubbing noses together.

There are also references to it in ancient Sumerian poetry. We also know now that there are various health benefits to kissing. It’s possible our ancestors had a small inkling that it was good for us.

The New Year’s tradition likely comes from Hogmanay, as it is customary to try to give everyone in the room a kiss at the stroke of midnight.

Times Square Ball Drop

Dec. 31, 1904, One Times Square, the headquarters of the New York Times, was completed, and to celebrate, owner Adolph Ochs held a big New Year’s celebration to mark the occasion, complete with fireworks and the first ball drop.

The tradition has continued for the past 118 years, with only modifications being changing out the ball several times over the decades, the square being shut down for 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and being invitation-only to first responders and their families.

This year the public is expected to be able to attend.