Why Do We Kiss At Midnight On New Year’s Eve?

Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
If we were to point to one New Year's Eve tradition that feels more like a requirement than anything else, it's the midnight kiss. After all, it turns out that the "revelers" you see in Times Square every year are actually paid to swap spit. We're all adults here and can probably agree that one late-night kiss shouldn't be such a big deal. But how did this kiss become the expected start to each year? It's believed that this custom began in Europe, USA Today reports, with some tracing it all the way back to the ancient Roman festival Saturnalia, in which people celebrated the new year with wild, drunken parties (during which time we assume some kissing took place). Eventually, kissing to kick off a new year spread to the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Although its original meaning remains vague, the New Year's kiss is reportedly supposed to represent an affectionate bond between two people who hope to stay in touch in the coming year. By that logic, you should only worry about getting smooched at midnight if you're with someone you deeply care for. Of course, that was before popular culture had its say. Classic movies and TV shows, like When Harry Met Sally, The O.C., and Friends, among many others, feature momentous midnight kisses meant to make us swoon. And boy, do we swoon. The message has come in loud and clear: If we want a love like Harry and Sally or Chandler and Monica, it's very, very important that we get that dang kiss. Clearly, the stakes have gotten slightly higher since ancient days. But if we can learn anything from this tradition's ambiguous roots, it's that a New Year's Eve kiss doesn't have to have any significance at all — it's totally up to you how much meaning you want to impart to it. And, hey, we're sure there were a few Romans who didn't get a kiss and still had a great 500 BCE.

More from Sex & Relationships

R29 Original Series