It is ironic that although we celebrate New Year's Day with such joy, no one knows how it was started or who was responsible for it.
This is the story, and I'm sticking to it, until someone can prove me wrong.
About 35,000 B.C. there was a tribe of cave people who lived in what is now France. Although they knew the difference between day and night, they had no idea of what a year was. To them it was an eternity. On his deathbed, a man might say, "Well, it's been a good year," meaning the entire span of his life.
But one day (WE know it was Jan. 1 -- but THEY didn't know it) a man named Stone woke up with a tremendous headache and could hardly talk.
Stone's wife, Stick, said, "Well, you certainly made a fool of yourself last night."
Stone, holding his head, said, "What did I do?"
"You put an iron pot on your head, took off your bearskin and danced all night with Ladle."
"I don't remember a thing. It must have been something I drank. What did they put in the boar soup?"
"Don't give me that. I saw you drinking from the clay bowl of rotten grapes that was standing outside for the last six months."
"I was thirsty and I thought it came from the Perrier spring."
"Well, what do I tell the people in the cave about your behavior last night?"
"Tell them I was celebrating the New Year."
"What do you mean, 'New Year'?"
"It's the name of a new holiday I just made up. Why should we spend all our lives with just one year? If we had a new year every 365 days we could all drink rotten grape juice the night before and put on silly hats made of leaves, and say next year will be better and feel terrible the next day."
"But why every 365 days?"
"It's just a figure I came up with. It could be 220 days if you want."
"And I'm supposed to tell everyone in the cave that that is what you were doing?"
"I don't care what you tell them. I don't want to talk to any of them today -- not with this headache. By the way, if you're going outside bring me a piece of ice."
In order to save face Stick told everyone in the cave that Stone had been celebrating the New Year, except for Ladle to whom she wasn't speaking. The men who had nothing to do that day except make paintings on the walls and drag wood in for the fires thought it was a great idea to have a holiday and congratulated Stone for thinking of it. Now they didn't have to die to decide whether it was a good year or not.
Other caves heard about it and the next year, on the night before New Year, they decorated their walls with goats' udders and each cave vied to see who could make the rottenest grape juice. One enterprising caveman made everyone pay a piece of coal to get into his cave, and this became the first cover charge in the history of mankind.
One small footnote: About two years after the Cro-Magnon people began to celebrate New Year, a group of men started throwing dried belly of pig around on the afternoon of New Year's Day.
The women became very angry and said, "What are you men doing?"
They didn't have an answer until one of them saw Ladle walking by with a bowl of roses.
"We're playing for Ladle's Rose Bowl," one of them jokingly said.
And that joke was the thing that finally made New Year's Day official.