It's Another New Year...Customs Around the World
It's Another New Year...
Customs Around the World
by Jennifer LB Leese
New Year's Day is one of the oldest and most exhilarating customs celebrated around the world.
As soon as the ball falls or the clock strikes twelve, ringing church bells, tooting horns, and ear-piercing shrieks can be heard throughout the world on this festive day. Every country, every religion, every family, every person, celebrates the new year in a unique way. Some wearing odd-shaped brightly decorated hats; some throw outlandish parties, while others celebrate quietly in the comfort of their own home.
Whether visiting relatives or watching New Year's Day parades at home on the TV, welcoming the New Year is always a time of entertainment, celebration, and resolution.
Since this celebration marks the beginning of the year, New Year's Day is thought of as a perfect time for a "clean start"--a New Year's resolution. People worldwide resolve to act better in the year just beginning than they did in the year that had just ended.
No day has ever been observed on so many different dates or in so many different ways. All over the world, countries have their own special beliefs about the meaning of a new year.
Traditions and Customs
While many people in the United States observe New Year's Day on January 1st by throwing parties late into the night on the eve of December 31st, people in China celebrate this holiday for several days between January 17th and February 19th, at the time of the new moon. The Chinese called this time of feasting and celebrations Yuan Tan. Lanterns illuminate the streets as the Chinese use thousands of lanterns "to light the way" for the New Year. The Chinese believe that evil spirits roam the earth at the New Year, so they let off firecrackers to scare off the spirits and seal their windows and doors with paper to keep the evil demons out.
In Scotland, the New Year is called Hogmanay. In the villages of Scotland, barrels of tar are set afire and then rolled down the streets. This ritual symbolizes that the old year is burned up and the new one is allowed to enter.
New Year's Day is the Festival of Saint Basil in Greece. Children leave their shoes by the fireside on New Year's Day with the hope that Saint Basil, who was famous for his kindness, will come and fill their shoes with gifts. The tradition of using a baby to signify the approaching new year began in Greece around 600 BC. It was their tradition at that time to celebrate their god of wine, Dionysus, by parading a baby in a basket, representing the annual rebirth of that god as the spirit of fertility. Early Egyptians also used a baby as a symbol of rebirth. The use of an image of a baby with a New Years banner as a symbolic representation of the new year was brought to early America by the Germans.
The Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah. It is a holy time when Jews recall the things they have done wrong in the past, and then promise to do better in the future. Special services are held in the synagogues, children are given new clothes and New Year loaves are baked to remind people of harvest time.
Iran's New Year's Day, which is in March, celebrates not only the beginning of a new year according to the solar calendar, but also bahar, "the beginning of spring."
On New Year's Day in Japan, everyone gets dressed in their new clothes and homes are decorated with pine branches and bamboo--symbols of long life.
In European countries such as Italy, Portugal, and the Netherlands, families start the New Year by first attending church services. Afterwards, they visit friends and relatives. In Italy, boys and girls receive gifts of money on New Year's Day.
The celebration of the New Year was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. In the years around 2000 BC, the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon (actually the first visible cresent) after the Vernal Equinox (first day of spring), lasting for eleven days.
The Romans continued to observe the new year in late March, but it is said that their calendar was continually tampered with by various emperors so that the calendar soon became out of synchronization with the sun.
In order to set the calendar right, the Roman senate, in 153 BC, declared January 1 to be the beginning of the New Year. But tampering continued until Julius Caesar, in 46 BC, established what has come to be known as the Julian Calendar. It again established January 1st as the New Year. But in order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for 445 days.
When the clock strikes midnight the Spanish eat twelve grapes one with every toll to bring good luck for twelve months for the New Year. Sometimes the grapes are washed down with wine. Theater productions and movies are interrupted to carry out this custom.
In Australia they celebrate the new year on January 1st with many people celebrating it at the beach with family picnics. They have parties that start on December 31st and at midnight they start to make noise with whistles and rattles, car horns, and church bells--ringing in the new year. In Australia, New Years Day is a day for outdoor activities such as rodeos, picnic races, and surf carnivals.
Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that reason, it has become common for people to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends. Parties often last into the middle of the night after the ringing in of a new year. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year's Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the rest of the year.
Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes "coming full circle," completing a year's cycle. The Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year's Day will bring good fortune.
Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the new year by consuming black-eyed peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another "good luck" vegetable that is consumed on New Year's Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency--reason your grandmother and mother always fixed pork and sauerkraut.
Auld Lang Syne
The playing of "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 Scotch tune, "Auld Lang Syne" literally means "old long ago," or simply, "the good old days."
Everyone, everywhere, makes a New Years resolution in some way...what's yours and will you stick to it?