Excitement for a new year abounds on January 1. Baby New Year is one of the more recognizable symbols of the New Year’s holiday, particularly in print advertisements and television commercials. Perhaps you’ve wondered what role Baby New Year plays in the celebration? While he may seem like a relatively modern icon, this cultural mainstay has a lengthy history.
One theory suggests Baby New Year was celebrated as far back as 600 B.C. in ancient Greece, when a child was paraded around in a basket upon the arrival of the new year. The baby represented rebirth, and Greeks believed their god of wine, Dionysus, was reborn on New Year’s as the spirit of fertility. Other historians say that the custom even predates the Greeks to the ancient Egyptians.
Even though the baby new year custom was originally frowned upon by Christians and deemed a pagan tradition, eventually Christians embraced the symbol as well, albeit in a different way. The end of the year is marked by the birth of the Christ child, and this became a special way to interpret Baby New Year.
In modern times, Baby New Year has lost any connection to a deity or religious figure. Rather, he is now interpreted as a child who arrives at the start of the year and eventually ages into Father Time. The baby is depicted as an infant or toddler wearing a diaper and a sash with the year he is representing (and often a top hat). He is sometimes depicted holding or associated with an hourglass, a noisemaker or other item either pertaining to time or New Year’s Day festivities. Father Time is often portrayed as an elderly man with a long, gray beard. The Baby New Year/Father Time message boils down to ‘out with the old and in with the new.’ People bid goodbye to Father Time and welcome this cherubic child who will carry them through the next 12 months and grow with them.
The Baby New Year idea eventually developed into a ‘First Born’ tradition as well. Many towns, cities and hospitals have instituted contests awarding the first baby born in the new year the title of ‘Baby New Year.’ Such children are often the subjects of local news coverage and get their picture in the newspaper. Gifts, such as complimentary diapers, a case of formula or baby food or other baby supplies may be offered. In addition, private companies may offer their own gifts and recognition to the lucky child and his or her family in turn for complementary publicity.