We celebrate this holiday world-wide, and the most famous tradition is the dropping of the ball in Times Square. This tradition began over 100 years ago in 1907; the first ball was made of iron and wood. The traditional ball has been made of Waterford Crystal, and it was 6 feet in diameter, weighing over 1,000 pounds. The 2010 ball is twice that size, and very colorful. The descent takes exactly one minute, arriving at the base at exactly midnight.
All over the world the tune (and sometimes all the words) of Auld Lang Syne is heard, played, and/or sung. The lyrics are from Bobbie Burns' poetic update of an old folk tale talking about old times. However, the popularity of the tune belongs to bandleader Guy Lombardo. He first heard it in his hometown in Ontario sung by Scottish immigrants.
When Guy and his brothers formed their famous dance band (Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians) it became one of their standards. They first played the song at midnight at the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC in 1929, and a tradition was born. After that, Lombardo's version was played at the Waldorf Astoria from the 1930's until 1976, broadcast first on the radio and later on television.
The Tournament of Roses Parade dates back to 1886, long before a football game became part of the celebration. The first parade was members of the Valley Hunt Club who decorated their carriages with flowers to celebrate the ripening of the orange crop in California.
In much of the US, the New Year's celebration isn't complete with just the Times Square Ball, Auld Lang Syne, and the Rose Bowl and parade... it takes specific foods to complete the picture. In the south, it's black-eyed peas and collard greens, representing coins and dollar bills. In Little Havana (Miami) it is 12 peeled grapes, one for good luck in each of the upcoming months, a tradition that originated in Spain and Portugal.
Pork or ham is traditional in many nationalities. The tradition stems from catching wild boar in the forests and butchering them on the first day of the new year. New Englanders may choose pork and sauerkraut (cabbage leaves are associated with paper money), and some nationalities choose herring served in a cream sauce, or pickled.
In some places fish is the lucky food, like salmon in the Pacific northwest. In other places, a special cake baked with a coin tucked inside is traditional.
Thousands of miles away, the Japanese may choose the long toshikoshi soba (sending out the old year) buckwheat noodle.
Whatever your food traditions, they are important to continue to celebrate as part of the individual and unique heritage of each of us, lest we all wind up celebrating at McDonald's in the future.
Another tradition in this country is partying, and champagne at midnight; if you choose this tradition, please appoint a Designated Driver, and arrive safely in the New Year.