PRYOR, OK —
Q: When did the tradition of celebrating New Year's Eve in Times Square begin? -- L.G.W., Burlington, N.J.
A: In 1904. The bash celebrated the opening of the new headquarters of The New York Times. The impressive Times Tower was Manhattan's second-tallest building back then. Alfred Ochs, the owner of the newspaper, had successfully lobbied the city to rename Longacre Square to Times Square, and a celebration was in order. Two years later, when the city council banned fireworks, Ochs commissioned a 700-pound steel and wooden ball to be lowered during the final seconds of the old year.
Q: Every New Year's Eve, a group of friends and relatives gather to celebrate the end of a year and the beginning of a new one. At the stroke of midnight, we butcher the song "Auld Lang Syne." Apart from not knowing the words, no one knows what the title means. We would also like to know who wrote it. -- L.J.P., Salem, Ore.
A: Scotsman Robert Burns wrote "Auld Lang Syne" in 1788, although many historians believe Burns was inspired by a similar poem that had been around for many years. The literal translation of the title is "Old Long Ago."
Q: Before Julius Caesar created a 12-month year, when did Romans celebrate the new year? -- L.H., St. Louis, Mo.
A: Around 700 B.C., two months were added to the Roman calendar, January and February. Prior to that, March was the beginning of the year.
DID YOU KNOW? Actors Morris Chestnut and Verne Troyer were born on New Year's Day in 1969.
Q: Where I live, it's a custom for people to set off fireworks during the first minutes of the new year. I've been in places where guns were fired, or bells and horns were used to make noise. What's with the noisemaking? -- N.L., Troy, N.Y.
A: In some cultures, there was a belief that making noise would drive away bad spirits.
Q: My maternal grandmother, born and raised in Scotland, often called New Year's Day Nearday. What does that mean? She had a special name for New Year's Eve, too. Do you know what that name might be? -- H.N., Fort Worth, Texas
A: Your grandmother was calling New Year's Day "Ne'erday," a contraction of New Year's Day in Scots dialect. In Scotland, New Year's Eve is called "Hogmanay." It's a night of celebration with friends and relatives well into Ne'erday.
Q: I say celebrating the New Year is one of the oldest celebrations around. What do you say? -- I.L., Orlando, Fla.
A: I say you are right. The celebration of the new year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4,000 years ago.
Q: When the Romans created the month of January, who was it named after? -- J.O.L., Madison, Wis.
A: January was named after the Roman god Janus (Latin for "door"). Janus is the God with two faces -- one looking backwards and one forward -- and he represents the spirit of the opening.
Q: How long have people been making New Year's resolutions? -- H.B.C., Cape May, N.J.
A: The tradition of making New Year's resolutions dates back to the early Babylonians. The tradition of breaking those resolutions is equally as old.
Q: Where on Earth is the last place to experience the old year? -- J.F., Jamaica Plains, N.Y.
A: The last inhabited place to celebrate the New Year is American Samoa, in the South Pacific, which is just east of the international date line. Some sources say the last place is either Howland Island or Baker Island. Both islands are very small and both are uninhabited, making party life a bit dull.
(Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at AskMrKIA@gmail.com or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)