It’s New Year’s Eve… a holiday marked by revelry, resolutions, champagne and, last but not least, the infamous stroke of midnight kiss. As we ready ourselves to countdown to the start of 2015, we decided to find out what’s behind the curious tradition of smooching to usher in the new year.

As it turns out, people have been locking lips as one year turns into the next since the 8th century BC and its meaning has run the gamut from straight-up debauchery, to purification, superstition and plain old fun.

According to KissingMatters, “Historians date the practice back to the Ancient Romans who would throw a big party every New Year’s Eve called the Festival of Saturnalia where they would kiss and generally debauch one another as much as possible.” No wonder Rome fell.

Later on, the English and Germans would celebrate by kissing the first person they met when the bells tolled twelve o’clock. The folklore behind this tradition says that the first person you encounter in a new year – and the type of encounter you have – sets the tone for the rest of the year. Talk about pressure… not only do you need to make sure you run into a top notch person at midnight, but they also better be a really good kisser or conversationalist. If not, your new year will truly suck.

Europeans have also traditionally held masked balls on New Year’s Eve for hundreds of years. As KissingMatters explains, “In these traditions, the mask symbolizes evil spirits from the old year and the kiss (after removing the mask) is an act of purification.” That sounds like our kind of cleanse.

WYSK New Year's Eve Midnight ClockAnd today there are still those who draw on the superstitious to put unfounded, yet weighty meaning on the New Year’s Eve kiss. KissingMatters tells us, “Supposedly kissing those closest to you at the stroke of midnight will strengthen the bonds of your relationship in the year to come.” Nice in theory, but not likely the end-all-be-all measure of relationship success.

In our estimation, the midnight kiss on New Year’s Eve, while steeped in years of tradition, seems to have become more of an arbitrary act that no longer holds any real significance other than being a simple show of love, an expression of well wishes for the new year or just a fun thing to do with your partner or the random person who is lucky enough to be standing next to you when the mirrored ball hits bottom.

So when the clock strikes 12 tonight, kiss with meaning or just for fun or don’t kiss at all. We’re certain that whether you do or you don’t, the coming year will still be whatever you want to make of it.

Happy New Year!

Did You Know?

About 90% of the world’s cultures kiss

2/3 of us tilt our heads to the right when we kiss

In the middle ages, illiterates could seal a legal deal with an “X” and a kiss, which is how the kiss got its “X” signature, as in “XOXO”

The science of kissing is called philematology

Germaphobes we warned… when people kiss they exchange between 10-million and 1-billion bacteria

Source: GOOD Magazine video on kissing

* This story was originally published on Women You Should Know on December 31, 2012. But, due to its overwhelming popularity, we have republished it every year since.