NEW YEAR’S TRADITIONS AROUND THE WORLD
In America, most of us celebrate the New Year on January 1st, according to the Gregorian calendar. But some parts of the world have different traditions.
For those celebrating the passing of a year at midnight on December 31st with kisses continuing into January 1, do we remember that it was Julius Cesar who, in 46 BC, decided to honor the pagan god Janus by taking that day as the commencement of each new calendar year? Hence the name “January.” Janus was considered the god of beginnings, ends, passages and time, and was always depicted with two faces, one towards the past, and one facing forward to the future.
Friends, families and lovers meet for a feast, some Champagne, firecrackers, funny hats and a kiss under the hanged mistletoe, while sincerely vowing to follow good resolutions.
Traditions to bring good luck for the New Year are as old as the celebrations and come from all corners of the world.
Many cultures count a tall, dark and handsome man crossing the threshold as a sign of good luck, but if the first person to enter the house is a red headed woman…the year is sure to be stressful. What single girl would argue with that one!
Others involve housecleaning…brushing the bad luck of the past out with the dust. Holding a piece of silver or gold as the New Year begins is said to increase the chances of prosperity in the coming year…some place a silver coin over the doorway or a penny on the windowsill.
The youngest boy in the household lighting a candle at dusk to burn through the night until morning light is another Celtic tradition — that may be an urban version of lighting bonfires or a carryover of the Samhain of lighting tapers in the windows to chase away evil spirits.
In the Philippines, children jump up and down at midnight to make sure they will grow tall. In Asia, sunrise celebrations and honoring of the ancestors and elders brings luck.
Germans drop melted lead into cold water and take turns interpreting the results. This tradition has become so popular that kits are sold that include the lead pellets and suggestions for discerning what it all means!
An Irish tradition involves banging on the door and walls with Christmas bread to chase the bad luck out and bring good spirits to the household with the promise of bread enough in the New Year. This is probably related to the tradition of banging pots and pans in Iran, or the ancient tradition of using firecrackers to welcome in the Chinese New Year.
Then there are the foods! Chiacchiere, or honey drenched balls of fried dough, always ensure a sweet year in Italy.
Grapes, one for each month, make for a lucky year in Spain and many Latin countries (in Portugal it’s raisins!). Eating kind of greens (the color of money), or anything that forms a circle – such as donuts or pretzels – also make for good fortune in the coming year.
These ancient holiday traditions are as varied as the lands where they are from, but they all have one thing in common: sharing warm personal wishes with friends and family for much happiness, health and prosperity in the New Year
Christmas Island is the first place on Earth to enter into a new year, followed by New Zealand, and a tiny bit of Russia, but Sydney, Australia is the first large city to welcome the New Year, smack in the middle of their summer, often with a bonfire on the beach, as of course, their weather allows it. The magnificent fireworks display on the landmark harbour is a famous event of the continent.
Fifteen hours later, New York celebrates with the drop of the crystal ball at Times square, with a bevy of freezing celebrities trying their best to sing in the misty weather. The new mayor will deliver a few words of self-satisfaction to thousands of proud New Yorkers.
The last city to hit the divide in time is Honolulu, Hawaii. In China and some other Asian countries, the New Year celebration does not fall on the same date each year, but is always somewhere between January 21st and February 20th , and depends on the movements of the moon and the sun. The next one will be on January 31st, and will start the Year of the Horse. Traditional red lanterns will hang from front doors and the family celebration includes a copious diner and an exchange of red envelops containing money.
Since the communist party has made religion illegal, several permitted “philosophies” are followed by the Chinese people: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism, though not the Roman Catholic kind.
Rosh Hashanah is regarded by most Jewish people of the world as their New Year. In that calendar, the day falls on the first day of the seventh month, meaning that it is also a fluctuating date, ranging from September 5th to October 5th. Honey, apples, peas and fish are the staples of the New Year’s diner.
Hijri, or Islamic New Year, does not fall on the first of January either, as the Muslim year is only 354 days long. Technically, the 2014 Islamic New Year is in the month known as Muharram, and was October 25th, based also on a lunar calendar. It is now the year 1436, since the very first year of the Islamic calendar began only in 610 AD, and with the days starting at sunset, it makes for a complicated scheme to calculate the exact beginning of each New Year, depending of the country celebrating it.
In Iran, the Persian New Year is Norouz, Nowruz, or No-Rooz, on March 20th, the first day of Spring. The tradition calls for a renewal of wardrobe and a cleansing of houses and last 13 days. Bonfires are lit and one is supposed to jump over it to gather its energy. This is often accompanied by loud banging on metal pots. Each family shares the seven lucky objects representing the seven original immortals protecting them, and the tables are often covered with pastries, candles, eggs, apples, lentils, red fish and dry fruits.
The Gregorian Calendar was defined by Pope Gregory XIII, who, in the XVI century (16th) commissioned the civil calendar still in use today. Before that was the Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar, and earlier the Roman calendar was in use. Astronomer Christopher Clavius believed the Julian Calendar was too long (at 365 days and six hours), so he convinced the good pope to change it to adjust to the real length of a year (at 365 days, five hours and 49 minutes). Petty, you think? But if you multiply by years, decades, centuries and millenniums, then we have a difference!
THE NEW YEAR
New Year is the time of year which a new year begins and the old year comes to a close. In many places the New Year is wrung in in some manner. The New Year of the Gregorian calendar, today in worldwide use, falls on January 1st, as was the case with the Roman calendar. There are numerous calendars that remain in regional use that calculate the New Year differently. New Year’s is one of the oldest holidays still celebrated, but the exact date and nature of the festivities has changed over time. It originated thousands of years ago in ancient Babylon, celebrated as an eleven day festival on the first day of spring. During this time, many cultures used the sun and moon cycle to decide the “first” day of the year. It wasn’t until Julius Caesar implemented the Julian calendar that January 1st became the common day for the celebration. The content of the festivities has varied as well. While early celebrations were more paganistic in nature, celebrating Earth’s cycles, Christian tradition celebrates the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ on New Year’s Day. Roman Catholics also often celebrate Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and a feast honoring Mary. However, in the twentieth century, the holiday grew into its own celebration and mostly separated from the common association with religion.
With the expansion of Western culture to many other places in the world during recent centuries, the Gregorian calendar has been adopted by many other countries as the official calendar, and the January 1st date of New Year has become global, even in countries with their own New Year celebrations on other days. In the culture of Latin America there are a variety of traditions and superstitions surrounding these datesas omens for the coming year. Many countries where Eastern Orthodoxy predominates celebrate both the Gregorian and Julian New Year holidays, with the Gregorian day celebrated as a civil holiday, and the Julian date as the “Old New Year,” a religious holiday. It is interesting to note that during any given month of the year many religions of the world have various celebrations and traditions for their New Year’s celebrations. An example is the Assyrian New Year, which is called Rish Nissanu, occurs on the first day of April. Rosh Hashanah is a Jewish, two day holiday, commemorating the culmination of the seven days of Creation, and marking God’s yearly renewal of His world. The day has elements of festivity and introspection, as God is traditionally believed to be assessing His creation and determining the fate of all men and creatures for the coming year. In Jewish tradition, honey is used to symbolize a sweet new year. At the traditional meal for that holiday, apple slices are dipped in honey and eaten with blessings recited for a good, sweet new year. With the dominance of Christianity, various dates for the New Year had special significance to Christians were adopted. An example is January 1st was associated with the incarnation of God’s son, Christ; March 25th was Annunciation. This is the day when Mary was informed by the Angel Gabriel that she would bear God’s son Jesus. The Eastern Orthodox Church liturgical calendar begins on September 1st to the celebration of Jesus’ birth in the winter (Christmas), through his death and resurrection in the spring (Easter), to his Ascension and the Assumption of his mother in the summer.
January 1 represents the fresh start of a new year after a period of remembrance of the passing year, including on radio, television and in newspapers, which starts in early December in countries around the world. Publications have year-end articles that review the changes during the previous year, as well as articles for the New Year as to what changes may occur. In some cases publications may set their entire year work alight in hope that the smoke emitted from the flame brings new life to the company.
New Year’s Eve had been a religious feast, but since the 1900’s it has also become an occasion to celebrate the night of December 31st. There are fireworks at midnight just at the moment the New Year arrives. New Year’s Day is a national holiday celebrated on January 1st, the first day of the New Year, following both the Gregorian and the Julian calendar. This holiday is often marked by fireworks, parades, and reflection upon the last year while looking ahead to the future’s possibilities. Many people celebrate New Year’s in the company of loved ones, involving traditions meant to bring luck and success in the upcoming year. Some common traditions: Making resolutions or goals to improve one’s life. Common resolutions concern diet, exercise, bad habits, and other issues concerning personal wellness. A common view is to use the first day of the year as a clean slate to improve one’s life. A gathering of loved ones. Including champagne, feasting, confetti, noise makers, and other methods of merriment. Fireworks, parades, concerts. Famous parades include London’s New Year’s Day Parade and the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. Superstitions concerning food or visitors to bring luck include circle-shaped foods, which symbolize cycles. The reasoning behind superstitions is that the first day of the year sets precedent for the following days. A common superstition specific to New Year’s Day concerns a household’s first visitor of the year—tradition states that if a tall, dark-haired stranger is the first to walk through your door, called the First Footer or Lucky Bird, you’ll have good luck all year. Also, if you want to subscribe to superstition, don’t let anything leave the house on New Year’s, except for people. Tradition say’s: don’t take out the trash and leave anything you want to take out of the house on New Year’s outside the night before. If you must remove something, make sure to replace it by bringing an item into the house. These policies of balance apply in other areas as well—avoiding paying bills, breaking anything, or shedding tears. Toasting Toasts typically concern gratefulness for the past year’s blessings, hope and luck or the future, and thanking guests for their New Year’s company. In coastal regions, running into a body of water or splashing water on one another, symbolizing the cleansing, “rebirth” theme associated with the holiday. Many nations and cultures within them have their own characteristic way of celebrating: (I venture share some examples here).
United States Americans often celebrate with a party featuring toasting, drinking and fireworks late into the night before the New Year, where the gathering counts down the final seconds to January 1st. Some might even get a kiss at midnight. Many English speaking countries play “Auld Lang Syne,” a song celebrating the year’s happy moments. Americans often make resolutions and watch the Time Square Ball drop in New York City. Although much of this celebration occurs the night before, the merrymaking typically continues to New Year’s Day. Football is a common fixture on New Year’s Day in America, usually the day of the Rose Bowl and other college bowl games.
France typically celebrate New Year’s with a feast and a champagne toast, marking the first moments of New Year’s Day with kisses under the mistletoe, which most other cultures associate with Christmas celebrations. The French also consider the day’s weather as a forecast for the upcoming year’s harvest, taking into account aspects like wind direction to predict the fruitfulness of crops and fishing. The Philippines celebrations are very loud, believing that the noise will scare away evil beings. There is often a midnight feast featuring twelve different round fruits to symbolize good luck for the twelve months of the year. Other traditional foods include sticky rice and noodles, but not chicken or fish because these animals are food foragers, which can be seen as bad luck for the next year’s food supply. Greece celebrates New Year’s Day with card games and feasting. At midnight, the lights are turned off, followed by the Basil’s Pie, which contains a coin. Whoever gets the piece of pie containing the coin wins luck for the next year. In Russia, New Year’s Day celebrations have been greatly affected by the Union’s history. As religion was suppressed and Christmas celebrations were banned, New Year’s, or Novi God celebrations often include Christmas traditions such as decorated trees, which were reconsidered as New Year Fir Trees. As the suppression left, these traditions stayed part of the New Year’s Day celebration. The holiday is also celebrated with feasts, champagne, and wishes.
Cold-water plunges In colder countries close to water, such as Canada, parts of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, it is customary to organize cold-water plunges. These plunges and races, sometimes called a Polar Bear Plunge, often raise money for charity or awareness for a cause such as breast cancer.
Auld Lang Syne The song, “Auld Lang Syne,” is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the New Year. At least partially written by Robert Burns in the 1700’s, it was first published in 1796 after Burns’ death. Early variations of the song were sung prior to 1700 and inspired Burns to produce the modern rendition. An old Scottish tune, “Auld Lang Syne” literally means “old long ago,” or simply, “the good old days.”
I remember growing up watching the ball/apple drop from Time’s Square in New York City on Television. To stay up and watch the ball drop many times we (brother and I) rested for a while in the afternoon otherwise we ended up sleeping through the entire thing. One year our family went to our local Chinese restaurant for a special New Year’s Eve multi-course dinner. When I was a bit older, I baby-sat for family friends while they went to New Year’s Eve parties. And we had parties to either welcome in the New Year on either New Year’s Eve or on New Year’s Day when we had many neighbors and friends in. It was always fun preparing special treats for the party. I look forward to doing something special again one of these years.
Happy New Year