A lot of people associate New Year’s with change — a change perhaps in mindset, in residence, or even just a change in wardrobe. If there’s something constant about the dawn of the new year, it’s that you’ll hear either of these phrases being thrown around: “bringing in the new year” and “ringing in the new year.” Like any debate, which phrase is correct will depend on who you’re asking. The ring and bring sides both to have valid points, but does one argument reign over the other?
The thing about language is that it can be funny sometimes — especially in English. In many cases, such as the “ringing” versus “bringing” debate, there’s the literal meaning of a word and one that derives its meaning from a historical standpoint. Based on this, there’s really no wrong answer when you put “ringing” and “bringing” against each other. Both make sense.
“Bringing in the new year” takes on the more literal meaning of the phrase. It’s basically to usher in the arrival of the new year and to say goodbye to the old one. When you bring something in, you let it enter. Think of it as bringing something new into your house.
On the matter of “ringing in the new year,” this is where history and tradition come up. In the old days, celebrations were often marked by bells being rung. As celebrating New Year’s eventually became a regular holiday, towns let out a loud New Year ring on midnight of December 31.
Alfred Lord Tennyson himself discussed this yearly tradition of ringing bells in his 1850 poem, “Ring Out, Wild Bells.”
Aside from celebrations, bells are also rung for those who have passed away. It was believed that loud noises can drive away evil spirits on the prowl for souls who have departed their bodies. This superstition has been around since ancient Roman times when the geographer Strabo recorded that the flocks — owned by Roman herdsmen — had bells attached to their necks. This is to ward off evil spirits or wild beasts who want to prey on the animals.
Ovid, the Roman poet, also noted that bronze vessels were beaten during an eclipse or the death of a friend to frighten demons with the sound. Thus, from the viewpoint of tradition and superstition, “ringing in the new year” was what signaled the start of celebrations — unless they’re tolling for the dead.
Since ringing a huge bell at home might spark some trouble with the neighbors, clinking your glasses during midnight is a good enough alternative when you want to welcome the new year. It might not be loud enough to ward off evil spirits, but it can get the party started just the same.