A cherub in a top hat, sash and diaper, Baby New Year is an avatar of optimism as the clock ticks down to midnight on December 31.
The black-capped toddler has been a holiday staple since the dawn of the 20th century, when the Saturday Evening Post began publishing humorous illustrations of babies on the covers of its year-end editions. The magazine covers inspired grownups to dress like infants on New Year’s Eve, in frequently ill-fated attempts to be the life of the party.
Although the Saturday Evening Post ended its New Year’s baby series in 1943, the pint-sized personification of time’s passage continues to loom large in pop culture. He has starred in holiday TV specials and taken the stage with legendary musicians. To this day, intrepid revelers still sip bubbly and sing “Auld Lang Syne” in diapers and sashes.
The original Baby New Year was born in ancient Greece, according to Britannica.com. It was reportedly customary to display an infant in a basket for the turn of the calendar. During the late 1400s, Germans depicted him as a religious figure signifying Baby Jesus. He was secularized by newspaper cartoonists in the 19th century and he went pop after the Saturday Evening Post put him on the cover in a top hat.
Here are 16 fun facts about the origins of Baby New Year and his enduring appeal as the embodiment of hope that the next 12 months will be better than the last.
Straight outta Sparta
During the age of Plato and Socrates, Greeks ushered in the new year with celebrations honoring Dionysus, the son of Zeus and god of wine. One of their traditions was placing an infant in a winnowing basket and hoisting the child skyward to represent the rebirth of Dionysus.
A 6-foot-tall papier mache baby will be perched on the roof of Jax Brewery in New Orleans on Thursday night. The holiday behemoth has reigned over the French Quarter’s festivities annually since 2000, sometimes wearing a Saints football helmet and a purple and gold Louisiana State University diaper. The statue, which survived Hurricane Katrina, will make one last appearance to ring in 2016 before moving to its new home, the Southern Food & Beverage Museum. Debra Bressler, NOLA New Year’s Eve event coordinator, said the city hopes to have a new baby sculpture cast in resin next year. Residents are invited to submit design ideas.
Baby New Year is frequently accompanied by Father Time, a cloaked old man who carries an hourglass and a scythe. He is modeled after Cronus, the father of Zeus in Greek mythology. When Baby New Year was popularized in 19th century editorial cartoons, Father Time tagged along as his elderly counterpart, a symbol of the past year. According to the cartoons, Baby New Year ages rapidly over 12 months and by the end of December, he’s Father Time.
Father Texas Time
Willie Nelson’s annual New Year’s Eve concerts in Austin feature cameos by Baby New Year and Father Texas Time. At midnight, a dreadlocked Father Time makes a grand entrance, wearing a long robe and a crown of yellow roses. He gets lowered to the stage in a Texas-themed carriage and hands over a prop hourglass to Baby New Year, a youngster in a white tux and top hat. Father Time’s conveyance changes each year. To greet 2015, he descended from the rafters riding a metallic armadillo.
About 500 years ago, German artisans created New Year’s greeting cards with drawings of Baby Jesus, according to Christopher Wood, professor of German and department chair at New York University. One of the cards, part of the collection at the National Gallery of Art, depicts a young Jesus riding a donkey with an inscription that translates into “I bring a good year.” Over time, the religious baby Jesus morphed into the secular Baby New Year, according to Wood. The first child born on New Year’s Day in Germany is called Neujahrsbaby.
Old Grandaddy ’99
During the late 19th century, Baby New Year began appearing in newspaper cartoons and year-end editorials. In 1900, the Detroit Journal commented on the turn of the century with a drawing of an infant sitting on top of the globe crying as he tries to solve a math problem. Father Time, aka Old Grandaddy ’99, looks on with a grin. “The poor kid isn’t certain whether he is the last of the 19th or the first of the 20th century!”
Baby New Year graduated from newspaper cartoons to magazine covers in 1906, when the Saturday Evening Post published its first holiday illustration of a toddler by artist Joseph Christian Leyendecker. He continued drawing cherubs through 1943, reimagining Baby New Year as an emblem of American resilience. Early on, Leyendecker drew classical pictures of red-cheeked kids with angel wings, but as the world grew more complex, he added darker elements, depicting Baby New Year as a soldier, women’s suffrage activist, striking coal miner, nervous stockbroker and heroic tax cutter. In 1936, when it seemed like the economy was gaining strength after years of decline, Leyendecker drew a top-hatted toddler showered with confetti. Although the recovery didn’t last, the image was indelible.
Coney Island Baby
Giant puppet versions of Baby New Year and Father Time will duel to the death in Brooklyn on Thursday night, as Coney Island sideshow performers present a vaudevillian revue called New Year’s in Heaven. It’s an avant-garde answer to the Times Square ball drop, featuring the literal destruction of holiday icons, according to Dick Zigun, co-creator of the piece. During the show, mythical characters and superheroes tear into Baby New Year and Father Time so the puppets are reborn as confetti.
Rocking the cradle
Phish drummer Jon Fishman brazenly took the stage in a bonnet and diaper at Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Eve 1995. Another jam band, Leftover Salmon, recruited a friend to portray Baby New Year for one of their holiday shows. He descended from the ceiling riding a giant green pencil. On December 31, 1993, comedian Bobcat Goldthwait emceed a Nirvana concert at the Oakland Coliseum. At midnight, he joined the band on stage wearing nothing at all.
Born this way
Grandmaster Flash and Verne Troyer (Mini-Me, “Austin Powers”) celebrate birthdays on January 1. So do a number of notable New Jerseyans, including former Gov. Jon Corzine, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and Oscar-nominated actor Frank Langella.
Born on January 1, 1946, in Philadelphia, a retired teacher named Kathleen Casey-Kirschling is widely considered the first baby boomer. She turns 70 on Friday.
Historical figures with New Year’s birthdays include Betsy Ross, Paul Revere, J.D. Salinger, J. Edgar Hoover, Barry Goldwater and Hank Greenberg.
Stop the presses
It’s a tradition for newspapers to spotlight babies born on January 1. The task of locating the year’s first child has grown more complex. In the past, hospitals publicized birth announcements but these days many health care facilities have ceased sharing info with the media because of concerns about identity theft and privacy on the Internet.
Baby New Year was one of the stars of a 1976 holiday special, “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year,” produced by the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animation studio. The story centers on a time-traveling Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, who’s enlisted by Father Time to find the missing Baby New Year, a diminutive lad named Happy in a towering stovepipe hat.
The irreverent animated series “Robot Chicken” on Adult Swim introduced a murderous version of the youngster in 2014. A segment called “Baby New Year: Resolution Enforcer” depicts a vengeful toddler who magically materializes at a New Year’s Eve party and stabs a man for taking a sip of champagne seconds after he vowed to swear off alcohol.
For crying out loud
The long, strange Christmas heat wave is coming to a close this week, according to Weather.com. On New Year’s Eve, temperatures will dive into the 30s from Atlanta to Boston. If you are fully committed to the idea of braving the cold and emulating an infant on New Year’s Eve, please wear a flesh-colored bodysuit. It will provide (some) insulation and mitigate wardrobe malfunctions.