top of page

It's All Greek To Me: Time Folklore

The ending of the year is almost a huge rush with multiple holidays being jammed-pack until time slips away into the next year. While most view time as uncontrollable, we still like putting a face to everything. The character we would assign to time constantly moving and changing would be Father Time and Baby New Year. Where did this idea originate and why did it start?


Tale As Old As Time


Cronus and Eros - Ivan Akimov (1755–1814)

The first mention of Father Time was in Ancient Greece estimated about 600 B.C. Father Time was said to be Cronus, the father of Zeus in Greek mythology. There is another take that Father Time may also resemble the Roman god, Saturn who ruled over agriculture and time. This is the reason why when picturing Father Time he is usually carrying a scythe, hourglass or both. Father Time is the symbol of wisdom and knowledge to pass along through generations as well as the scythe being a symbol of endurance, never stopping in time.


The image of Father Time is usually viewed as an older man that can be seen oftentimes in a cloak/robe. So many have believed that Father Time, with his scythe, and the Reaper are the same personas. This is not the case. The major difference is Father Time oversees time while the Reaper oversees death. It is depicted that Father Time and the Reaper are actually companions that work together as Father Time shares the wealth of knowledge and wisdom then passes the baton to the Reaper when all knowledge has been acquired. Does this mean that Father Time is his own entity? Not entirely.


Passing Time, Dan Francis

New Year, New You

It is believed that Father Time was once a baby. A special baby that would need to understand the meaning of time. No other baby except for Baby New Year. The folklore behind the passage of time is that Baby New Year is born and grows exponentially fast. In the timeframe of one year, a New Year Baby is to be with Father Time who passes all his wisdom and knowledge to the New Year Baby, and by the end of that year, The New Year Baby then becomes Father Time. So with that said, then obviously Baby New Year is just a younger Father Time, correct? So close, but no cigar.


A Greek Reincarnation

Silenus with the baby Dionysus - Roman marble copy from Greek original.

Baby New Year came from Ancient Greece around 600 B.C as well. The baby was celebrated as the rebirth of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and fertility. The tradition was to place a newborn into a weaved basket, tie a rope to it, and hoist the baby into the air.


From Ancient to Modern Times

With the constant cycling of a new baby to grow up and take the place of the former, more elder man has passed the test of time. Some of the celebrations have changed. Fortunately, instead of celebrating Dionysus by stringing a newborn up in a basket, we have taken the god of wine approach toasting the New Year. Babies are still recognized as a symbol of a new, innocent year and most local hospitals recognize their 'New Year Baby' (the 1st baby born after 11:59 pm). Businesses and organizations join in the tradition and create contests that award saving bonds and/or free diapers.


So when you countdown to midnight; watch the ball drop; or prepare for kissing someone special, keep in mind that the time-honored tradition of going from old to new came from the Great Greeks themselves.