All Around the globe, people come together to be a part of the revelry as the clock strikes 12 on December 31. As per the widely accepted Gregorian calendar, January 1 marks the onset of the New Year for most people, symbolizing a fresh beginning, a chance to bid farewell to the trials of the year that has passed and embrace the coming year with renewed hopes and vigor. Not all countries, though, follow the Gregorian calendar and due to diverse cultural practices, the date of the commencement of the New Year also varies across the world.
1. Chinese New Year: According to the Lunar Calendar followed in China, the New Year or the ‘Yuan Tan’ may fall between January 21 and February 21, depending on the new moon of the first lunar month. The Chinese calendar has a 12 year cycle with each year being named after a different animal. The year 2016 will be the year of the Monkey. For people born in the year of the Monkey (2004, 1992, 1980, 1968…) 2016 is considered to be very auspicious.
In preparation of the New Year, the Chinese clean and decorate their houses with symbols of peace and luck, repay all their debts and purchase new clothes. Traditionally, the festivities begin weeks in advance of the Chinese New Year’s Eve, and each day of the New Year has its own special rituals and customs, with the celebrations concluding on the 15th day of the first Chinese calendar month- the day of the famous Lantern Festival, when people can see the full moon for the first time. People participate in a parade led by a silk dragon, the Chinese symbol of strength, carrying bright lanterns. Legend says that the dragon hibernates most of the year, so people throw firecrackers to keep the dragon awake.
2. Jewish New Year: The Jews celebrate their New Year in the month of Tishri or the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. It is their belief that God opens the Book of Life for 10 days, starting with Rosh Hashanah, which falls on October 2 in 2016, and ending with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). This period, known as the Shabbat Shuva, is considered to be the holiest in the Jewish year and the Jews take it as an opportunity to repent for the sins of the past year and plan ahead for the year to come through introspection and the blowing of the ram’s horn ‘Shofar’. Those who have repented for their sins are believed to be blessed with a happy New Year.
Eating apples dipped in honey is an important Jewish custom as it symbolizes a sweet new year. Family and friends gather together and pray before lit candles by chanting Kiddush prayers, take the holy bath and enjoy a sumptuous feast, wishing each other longevity and prosperity.
3. Thai New Year: The Buddhist New Year or Songkran will be celebrated in 2016 from 13th to 15th April as the famous Thai water festival. The word Songkran is derived from Sanskrit which means “Astrological Passage”. Songkran celebrations are also popular in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and amongst ethnic minorities in Yunnan, southern China and Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in India.
The Thais drench each other with water using water guns, large containers and even garden hoses. The water symbolizes the desire for plentiful rainfall in the year to come as Songkran marks the end of the dry season. Massive statues of the Buddha which unleash sprays of water on passersby are a common feature of the festive parades. All idols and images of the Buddha undergo thorough cleaning in order to usher in prosperity and peace and fish are released into water bodies as an act of kindness. People tie strings around each others’ wrists as a token of respect and the strings are worn until they fall off on their own.
A custom unique to northern Thailand is the carrying of small bags of sand to the temple, the Buddhists’ manner of returning the dust they have carried away in the past year on their bare feet. They then sculpt this stand into small stupas and decorate it with flags to honor the Buddha.
4. Japanese New Year: Japan officially adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1873. Before that Japanese New Year celebrations were as per the Chinese lunar calendar. New Year festivities in Japan begin on January 1 and continue for a fortnight.
The traditional spirit of the festival is in accordance with the age-old concept of purging oneself of evil and ushering in with a wave of good vibes. The people visit temples and pray for the departed and for good harvest. It is customary to ring the temple bells 108 times to ward of the evil, and to relapse in peals of laughter as the clock is about to strike midnight. All households prepare decorative rice cakes called Mochis and hang straw ropes at the entrance to attract good fortune. Paper lobsters, green plants and bamboo adorn homes signifying endurance, new life and honesty. Envelopes with money are handed to children by elders.
5. Ethiopian New Year: The first day of the New Year in Ethiopia is called Enkutatash and it is celebrated on Meskerem 1 on the Ethiopian calendar, which is 11 September (or 12 September in case of a leap year) as per the Gregorian calendar. The origin of this name can be traced back to the time when the Queen of Sheba returned from her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem and she was welcomed back by her chiefs with a treasury which had been replenished with enku, or jewels of fabulous beauty. This celebration of springtime and renewed life has continued ever since and each year as the last of the rains trickle away, the lush countryside comes alive in the merriment of dancing, singing and bonfires, with Ethiopian children, dressed in new clothes, presenting each household with bouquets of flowers and painted pictures.
Families attend church in the mornings and then eat the traditional meal of injera (flat bread) and wat (stew). In recent years, the urban populace exchanges formal New Year greetings and cards instead of the traditional bouquets. A splendid religious celebration involving three days of prayers, psalms and hymns, and massive colorful processions takes place at the 14th-century Kidus Yohannes church in the city of Genet in the Gonder Region.
6. Sri Lankan New Year: In Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese New Year, Aluth Avurudhu, and the Tamil New Year, Puththandu, are celebrated as per the Sinhalese calendar in the month of Bak, typically in mid-April (April 14 in 2016). The word ‘Bak’ originated from the Sanskrit word ‘bhagya’ or fortune’. Unlike the customary ending and beginning of new year in other cultures, there is a period of time in between, which is called the nonagathe (neutral period) in the Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations, during which people abstain from all types of work in order to participate in religious activities.
The rituals observed by Sri Lankans include house cleaning, lighting of the hearth, herbal bathing and strengthening the family relationships. This is achieved through the traditional offering of betel to parents and elders, an act of paying gratitude and the children in turn receive blessings from parents. A variety of sweetmeats, such as kevum, kokis, aluva and asmi are prepared in all homes at least three days before the New Year and several outdoor games such as olinda keliya, onchili varam and mee sellama see active participation.
7. Islamic New Year: Also known as the Hijri New Year, the Islamic New Year is celebrated on the first day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic lunar calendar. Being one of the four holy months of Islam, fighting, bloodshed and other unlawful acts are forbidden during Muharram as Muslims believe that the heaven and earth were created during this period. This celebration of the New Year is a solemn affair for the Shia Muslims who mourn for the first 10 days by paying homage to Prophet Muhammad. They wear black attire, narrate the hijra or the flight of the Muhammad’s from Medina to Mecca and recite sorrowful poems in the memory of the martyr of Imran Hussain, the Prophet’s grandson who was killed din the Battle of Karbala on the 10th day or the day of the Ashura.
Muslim males beat their chests and walk barefoot over the burning coal to commemorate the sufferings of Hussain, crying loudly as repentance of their inability to save Hussain. Processions (Ashura) are conducted through the streets lead by a horse with the beautifully embellished tombs (taziyas or replicas of the martyr’s tomb which are made during the previous 9 days using bamboo and paper) and charities are made to the poor.
8. Bahai New Year: The Bahai New Year or Naw-Ruz is observed on the day of Vernal Equinox, generally on March 21st every year. They have their calendar known as the Badi calendar which has nineteen months each with nineteen days. The unique Bahai solar calendar provides for an extra period of four days in a regular year, and five in case of a Leap Year, summing up to 365 or 366 days. Owing to the Bahai belief that a day starts at sunset, their New Year celebrations commence from the evening of March 20th.
People wear new clothes, exchange gifts and a lavish feast is laid out. Throwing sprouted lentils in the running river water is supposed to carry bad luck away with it. Naw-Ruz is one of the nine Bahá’í holy days on which work is to be suspended. People come together to offer prayers and dine together since the sunset on which Naw-Ruz begins ends the last day of the Bahá’í fast.
9. Russian New Year: In Russia, the New Year celebrations take place twice. Fireworks and concerts mark the ‘New’ New Year on December 31st/January 1st. The Russian Santa, or Ded Moroz, and his female companion Sengurochka visit children and distribute gifts. The traditional western Christmas tree is called a New Year’s Tree in Russia as the ‘New’ New Year precedes Christmas in Russia on January 7, so this tree is left up in honor of both holidays. This New Year is considered the “New” New Year as it was recognized only after Russia made the switch from the Julian calendar (which is still recognized by the Orthodox Church) to the Gregorian calendar followed by the West.
Russians have a second celebrate the ‘Old’ New Year, which falls on January 14th according to the old Orthodox calendar and use this opportunity to spend time with family in a quieter manner than the New Year celebrated on January 1st. Folk traditions such as carol singing and fortune telling are observed during Russia’s Old New Year, and a large meal is shared by friends and family.
10. Gregorian New Year: Many of the countries which celebrate New Year as per the Gregorian calendar have several unique traditions, apart from the regular parties, parades and fireworks. Here’s a glimpse at some of them:
- In the UK, a tall, handsome, dark haired male has to be the first visitor of the house carrying a loaf of bread, a bottle of whiskey and some coal and salt.
- Danes collect dishes all around the year and smash them at their doorsteps on New Year’s Eve- each broken piece symbolizes a new friend in the coming year.
- Spaniards eat 12 grapes- one grape at each strike of the clock at midnight- in the hopes of attracting good luck.
- Estonians believe that they should eat seven, nine, or twelve meals on New Year’s Eve-with each meal consumed, it is believed that the person gains the strength of that many men the following year. A part of the meal is left unfinished for the spirits or ancestors who visit the house on New Year’s Eve.