Along with resolutions, the countdown of the final seconds of the year and the ball drop in New York City, the New Year’s kiss has become synonymous with the holiday as several couples, friends and even strangers share the once-in-a-year moment at midnight on Jan. 1.
Seen in numerous holiday movies and something nearly every cameraperson across the world will attempt to capture during the celebrations, the midnight kiss is a tradition seen across the world. And it turns out the tradition is a few hundred years old, says Alexis McCrossen, professor of history at Southern Methodist University.
Author of the upcoming book focusing on New Year’s Day traditions in the U.S., “Time’s Touchstone: The New Year in American Life,” McCrossen said up until the late 1800s, new year celebrations actually took place during the day. It wasn’t until electricity became more widely available that celebrations of a new year turned into celebrations of anticipation.
“At the end of the 19th century, cities began to be illuminated at night,” McCrossen told USA TODAY. “When you get people out at night and you have more public venues for parties and you have more precise timekeeping, then people begin to celebrate New Year’s Eve.”
But before the New Year’s Eve skies lit up, German tradition was celebrating the new year with a bonfire on Dec. 31. McCrossen said it was during these bonfires when the kiss originated.
When numerous Germans immigrated during the 1800s, they brought the kiss along with them, which by 1900 became a nationwide way of celebrating that has remained today.
“The funny thing about traditions is they sort of just develop over time,” McCrossen said. “If you’re awake at midnight on New Year’s Eve and if you’re with other people, kisses will likely be exchanged.”
There is no definite explanation of why the kiss was done, but McCrossen said it most likely was meant to wish good luck going into the next year.
Fast forward to 2021, and the kiss has become one of the biggest must-haves in American culture, turning into one of the most romantic moments a person can have. Look no further than movies like “New Year’s Eve” and “When Harry Met Sally” for evidence.
Jaime Bronstein, a relationship therapist and coach, said the kiss coincides with cuffing season, a time in the year when people who typically don’t want to be in serious relationships begin to look for one. The “season” usually lasts from fall to early spring.
Bronstein added one reason why this phenomenon happens is that people don’t want to be alone for the holidays. She also mentioned “snow globing,” when someone uses the holiday season to make their partner think their relationship is more serious than it is, happens a lot as well. These theories then build anticipation for sharing the New Year’s kiss.
“Especially around this time of year, I think people get into relationships a little less authentically,” she said. “Around the holiday time, it can cause like a false representation where you have inauthentic happiness.”
For couples, the kiss can mean a variety of things, depending on how long the relationship is and how well partners know each other. Bronstein said for older relationships, the kiss is a good way to reconnect with your partner and be grateful for each other heading into another year together.
“Many people look at a kiss as even more intimate than sex and take kissing seriously, as you can’t get much closer to someone than when you are kissing them,” Bronstein said. “It really is a special thing.”
For new relationships, the kiss can be a sign of great things to come. If the kiss doesn’t happen, maybe it’s time to evaluate why it didn’t.
But like many things, COVID-19 has also changed the way the kiss is evaluated. Nowadays, more single people are looking to intentionally date someone rather than casually date them, so New Year’s Eve can be a great indicator of whether the relationship is worth pursuing.
For single people, the kiss can sometimes result in kissing a friend or even a stranger. Bronstein said many people who are not in relationships looked for someone to kiss because it can feel inspiring. She said she’s also met some couples who either met or began dating on New Year’s Eve.
But no matter if someone is with someone or not, the moment can be truly special for anyone.
“The concept of hope and wonder exists in many single’s minds and hearts that make it such a special moment,” she said. “For many – especially romantics – a New Year’s Eve kiss can be incredibly magical and something that one looked forward to all year. ”