Why do we kiss on New Year’s Eve?

Along with the explosions of fireworks and the ringing of Big Ben, many people view kissing as a method of celebrating the arrival of a New Year. However, despite this tradition being deeply entrenched into our expectations for this annual holiday, many would be surprised to learn how the custom has been influenced by the cultural changes of history. Therefore, before we begin to lose the will to stick by our resolutions for 2022, let’s take a moment to reflect on the history which has shaped our experience of every January 1st.

In the modern-day, much of our celebration surrounds the anticipation of midnight; everybody wants to be awake when the clock strikes twelve, relishing the moment when we collectively experience the transition from one year to another in real-time. However, before the invention of electricity, the New Year was celebrated in Germany on December 31st, where a bonfire was lit instead of fireworks. According to Alexis McCrossen, it was in the shadows of these flames that the New Year kissing tradition was born.

When the use of artificial lighting became widespread and timekeeping became more accurate, hosting gatherings to mark this holiday became much more common. As society began to view the New Year as an event that must be celebrated, a certain mythos was attached to the kisses exchanged during this time. In English and German folklore, the people with who you create intimacy as the clock strikes twelve are supposed to accompany you throughout the year. Therefore, it is no wonder that a sense of urgency underpins some people in their search for a New Year’s kiss – they are looking to ensure that the next phase of their life begins on a good note. It is possible that festive cheer also contributes to this feeling, as the psychoanalyst Babita Spinelli has suggested people do not wish to be alone during the holidays, hence the great anticipation for New Year’s Eve. The relationship therapist Jamie Bronstein has even suggested that such kisses align with ‘cuffing season’, the period where a collective longing for a relationship is experienced. The coldness of the winter season is supposed to work in combination with the fear of being alone for valentine’s day to inspire a renewed interest in partnership, particularly amongst those who previously had shown no interest in dating.

However, whilst it remains true that some continue to view a New Year’s kiss as an opportunity to forge romantic possibilities, the practice cannot be said to only have one meaning. During Scottish Hogmanay, it is traditional to try and give a celebratory kiss to everyone in your company as ‘the bells’ ring out, instead of reserving the intimacy for a special someone. This approach does a lot to dispel some of the weight behind the expectations of a New Year’s kiss, as it is viewed as part of the communal festivity.

Regardless of how you personally view this New Year’s eve tradition, it is important that we do not let the historical providence of the custom be morphed into something which shames those who are unable or unwilling to partake. The notion that New Year’s is a celebration that is only enjoyable for those in relationships has become far too prominent, with the expectation of having a party actually having the adverse effect of making some feel more isolated. This can be argued to be a by-product of a wider issue: Shelley Budgeon has shown how couple culture’s ‘stigmatized status of singleness’ has assigned those not in a relationship outsider status. New Year’s, a holiday that has traditions dating back hundreds of years that are designed to establish a sense of community, should not be tainted by such notions. Your actions, when Big Ben chimed out, do not determine the quality of your festivities: whether you were out partying or simply at home with your family, I simply hope that you had a good experience to begin 2022.

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