Welcoming the New Year Through the Lens of Traditions

The New Year has been celebrated around the world for at least 4 millennia but not at the same time or way for everyone. It is celebrated on the last day of the Gregorian calendar in only some cultures. 

The earliest recorded festivities date back some 4000 years ago to ancient Babylon. The first new moon following the vernal equinox (a day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness) signaled the start of the new year for the Babylonians. A religious 11-day festival called ‘Akitu’ marked the occasion, which involved a different ritual on each of its days. 

Throughout the centuries, various calendars were developed which typically marked the first day of the year to a prominent agricultural or astronomical event. January 1st was established as the first day of the year according to the Julian calendar, partly to honor the two-faced Roman god of beginnings ‘Janus’, whom the month was named after. 

As the list of diverse calendars goes on, the Chinese lunar calendar deems the first day of the new year as occurring with the second new moon after the winter solstice. This means the upcoming one will be celebrated on February 1st, 2022. 

In Egypt, the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile, which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius.

As for the Islamic calendar, there are normally 354 days in each year, with the new year beginning with the month of Muharram, whose date varies from year to year.

In Thailand, a special three-day water festival on April 13–15 marks Songkran, the Buddhists’ celebration of the new year.

With the recent New Year’s celebrations, it is fitting to talk about a few traditions that take place throughout the world. 

In Colombia, people wear brand-new yellow underwear to ring in the New Year and also run around the house (or block) with a suitcase to ensure that the upcoming year is filled with travel. The Danes jump off of chairs at the stroke of midnight to literally “leap” into a luck-filled new year. 

To name a few of the traditions related to food, in Spain, people consume a dozen grapes – symbolizing their hopes for the months ahead – right before midnight. In many parts of the world, traditional New Year’s dishes feature legumes, which are thought to resemble coins and herald future financial success; examples include lentils in Italy and black-eyed peas in the southern United States. In some cultures, pigs represent progress and prosperity. Hence, people in Cuba, Austria, Hungary, Portugal, and several other countries eat pork on new years eve. Ring-shaped cakes and pastries are common in the Netherlands, Mexico, and Greece as a sign that the year has come full circle. Meanwhile, rice pudding with an almond hidden inside is served on New Year’s Eve in Sweden and Norway; it is said that whoever finds the nut can expect 12 months of good fortune.

The practice of making resolutions for the new year is thought to have originated from the ancient Babylonians, who made promises to earn the favor of the gods and start the year off on the right foot. (They would vow to pay off debts and return borrowed farm equipment.)

The age-old custom of kissing your loved one at the stroke of midnight is a tradition that is thought to have been passed down from English and German folklore, which held that the first person you encountered in the New Year would determine the year’s destiny. Eventually, the tradition evolved to choosing who you wanted the year’s good luck to be shared with.

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