Did you know that opossums, a small mammal found in 41 states, have something in common with New Year’s Eve?

Historians believe that humans have been celebrating the new year for at least 4,000 years, but that party hasn’t always been on the first day of January. That first happened almost 3,000 years ago, then went out of favor for other days before being chosen again in the late 1500s. Before that, the new year was often celebrated in late March on the vernal equinox – when the length of the day and night are close to the same.

Opossums are a pretty unique animal. Like kangaroos they are marsupials, animals that carry their young in a pouch on their stomach. When opossums are born they are about the size of a bean. Opossums also have what’s called a prehensile tail, a tail they can use for gripping on to tree branches like a monkey.

Opossums, also called possums, were joined with New Year celebrations in North Carolina and the Georgia town of Tallapoosa. Tallapoosa’s celebration started when a resident taxidermist found a dead possum along the road and stuffed it. At midnight the possum, named Spencer, is lowered from a tall building in what’s become known as a possum drop.

The taxidermist stuffed the opossum because of the town’s earlier name, Possum Snout.

Possums aren’t the only unusual animals or things used to mark the new year. New York City drops a huge, glittering ball that weighs almost 12,000 pounds. There have also been a frozen carp drop in Wisconsin, a pickle drop in North Carolina, and a big slab of bologna in Philadelphia used to mark the new year, according to CBS News.

Maybe you can come up with a unique idea to add to the way you celebrate the new year with your family and friends, like a bonfire, sledding or a favorite song. Happy 2019 in five days!

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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