The story behind New Year's Eve history & traditions

New Year's Eve isn't all fireworks, champagne and singing. It's a day rich in history that is unknown to most of American society.

Over 4,000 years ago, the ancient Babylonians celebrated the New Year in late March following the vernal equinox - a day with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness.

The New Year was marked with an 11-day religious festival called Akitu. The festival also honored the mythical political victory of Marduk, the Babylonian sky god over Tiamat, an evil sea goddess.

During this festival time, a new king was crowned or the current ruler was symbolically reinstated.

The early Romans also celebrated the New Year in March, since the calendar was 10 months and 304 days long. Like the Babylonians, the Romans also based their New Year on the vernal equinox.

According to tradition, Romulus, the founder of Rome, created the calendar in the eighth century BC.

Roman king Numa Pontilius added January and February in 153 BC to the calendar in honor of two Roman consuls.

Although the New Year technically fell on Jan. 1, many Romans continued celebrating it on March 1 until 46 BC, when Julius Caesar introduced an accurate solar-based calendar showing Jan. 1 as the beginning of the New Year.

For the first time, Romans began universally celebrating the New Year in January.

That is, until 567 when the European Council of Tours abolished the holiday because it declared New Year's festivities as pagan ceremonies.

Throughout the centuries in Christian Europe, the New Year holiday was celebrated on Dec. 25, March 1, March 25, Easter and the Feast of the Annunciation.

Finally, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII restored Jan. 1 as New Year's Day. Many Catholic countries adopted the holiday almost immediately, but it wasn't until later that Protestant-based countries, such as England, followed suit.

Dropping of the Ball

The dropping of the ball at Times Square is one of the most recognizable and American traditions during New Year's Eve.

The "time ball" was first designed to imitate the United States Naval Observatory practice of lowering a ball and flag to signal noontime.

The ball drop - descending 141 feet in 60 seconds - at Times Square was organized by New York Times owner Adolph Ochs in 1907. It was developed as a successor to a series of New Year's Eve fireworks displays.

The first ball was a 700-pound iron and wood ball covered in 100 25-watt light bulbs, designed by Artkraft Strauss. Today, the ball is significantly heavier and covered in Waterford crystals.

Since 1907 - excluding 1942 and 1943 for wartime "dim outs" - people have gathered in Times Square to watch the famous ball drop to ring in the New Year.

Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment developed a new LED-lit ball in 2007 to celebrate the event's 100th anniversary.

As of 2009, the new 12,000-pound 12-foot ball has been weatherproof and remained displayed atop Times Square year round.