While people around the world have different customs for celebrating the first day of the year, almost all “ring in the new year” in some fashion or another.
Some light fireworks, shoot pistols, blow horns, or beat drums.
But why do we “ring in” a new year?
Historians believe ringing in a new year – or new beginning – is a custom rooted in Eastern culture and passed down through the ages.
Banging a gong to ward off evil spirits, heal the sick and communicate significant events is an ancient Asian practice.
The gong has for centuries served an important function in Hindu and Buddhist worship traditions signifying renewal and cleansing. In Buddhist temples, a bell or gong is struck 108 times at midnight on New Year’s Eve to release the temptation of the 108 defilements of Buddhism.
Though the creation of the first gong and its purpose may be a story lost to time, historians presume the instrument has existed for thousands of years.
This ancient, disc-like percussion instrument has evolved into various forms but it’s believed the modern gong came from China around the 6th century A.D. They were widely used in Indonesia beginning around the 9th century.
There are many kinds of gongs, but the most well-known types include the suspended gong that hangs from a cord or wire; the nipple gong, which has a raised center and is played horizontally and the bowl gong which is named for its shape. Many believe the gong is named for the sound it makes.
To own a gong was a symbol of success and status in among Asian cultures. Touching or banging a gong was believed to bring a person good luck, health and happiness.
Despite their popularity in Asia, the use of gongs was slow to catch on in Europe.
Now a regular part of the percussion section in Western orchestras, the first symphony known to include a gong was “Mirabeau,” by French composer Francois Gossec, in 1791.
Like in Asian cultures, the gong became a symbol of status and prosperity when it finally became popular in Europe during in the 19th century. Prominent households during the Victorian Era would “ring the gong” to signify dinner time.
So, when you’re “ringing in the new year” on Dec. 31 think of the mighty gong and it’s ancient long-held traditions. Whether they have healing power or bring good fortune is anyone’s guess, but there’s no question gongs are a timeless work of musical and visual art for the ages.