New year days differ across the world, but what is common to all of them is fresh hope, and the desire for a new beginning.
WORDS: MADHURI. Y
New year days around the world have been based on the solar calendar, lunar calendar, vernal equinox, arrival of spring, or the end of the harvest season. From ancient societies to the modern world, new year has been a time for renewal, renewed vows and new beginnings, giving new hope.
AKITU OF THE MESOPOTAMIANS
The earliest known new year celebration was the Babylonian Akitu. Celebrated after the vernal equinox, it dates back to about 2000 BC and was celebrated over 12 days. The priest of god Marduk’s house recited sad prayers and asked for Marduk’s forgiveness, indicating fear of the unknown. On the fifth day, the Babylonian king would enter the temple in which the priest, representing Marduk, stripped the king of his jewellery, and slapped him hard. If the king’s tears flowed, it meant that he had submitted to Marduk, and had shown respect. The priest returned the king’s crown, symbolically renewing the king’s power by Marduk.
WEPET RENPET OF EGYPT
The Egyptian new year coincided with river Nile’s annual flood. During mid-July, Sirius the brightest star would become visible after a 70-day absence. The Nile would overflow soon after, turning the farmlands fertile once again. Wepet Renpet was marked by rituals and feasts.
Coptic Egyptians of North Africa celebrated the Neyrouz and Ethiopians celebrated Enkutatash both of which fall on 11th or 12th September, following the legacy of Wepet Renpet. In Ethiopia though, it marks the end of the rainy season.
NOWRUZ OF PERSIA
Nowruz, the Persian new year was a 13-day festival and falls on the vernal equinox in March. It is part of Zoroastrianism and has been celebrated since at least the 6th century Achaemenid Empire. Despite Alexander’s conquest of Persia and the rise of Islam, the festival continues to be celebrated. It is marked by feasts, exchanging presents, lighting bonfires, colouring eggs and sprinkling water.
JEWISH NEW YEAR
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year falls in September or October. Some say that it is based on the creation of Adam and Eve. According to others, it marks the beginning of the agricultural cycle. It is celebrated over two days. Candles are lit in the evenings, festive meals are made, and prayer services are conducted. It is a time of judgement, penitence and forgiveness.
During the reign of the Shang dynasty over 3000 years ago, the Chinese new year was introduced to celebrate the spring planting. It is based on the lunar calendar and is celebrated on the second new moon after the winter solstice, hence it falls in January-February.
Myths are a part of the festival. Nian, which also means year, was a bloodthirsty creature which preys on villages. To frighten the hungry Nian, villagers decorate their houses with red trimmings, burn bamboo, and make loud noises. During the 15-day festival, people clean their houses, repay old debts, decorate their doors with paper scrolls, and have a feast with relatives.
OTHER ASIAN NEW YEARS
Tet, the Vietnamese new year falls between 20 January and 20 February. It is based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar and marks the arrival of spring. Seollal, the Korean new year is celebrated on the first day of their lunar calendar and falls on the day of the second new moon after winter solstice. The Cambodian Khmer new year is a three-day festival with the new year falling on 13 or 14 April and marks the end of the harvest season.
Songkran, the Thai new year falls on 13 April. Songkran originates from the Sanskrit word Sankranti and coincides with the entry of Sun into Aries.
Although most Nepalese celebrate the new year on Baisakhi, ethnic Newari celebrate it on the fourth day of Diwali.
The Islamic new year, also known as the Arabic or Hijri new year, falls on the first day of Muharram. The first Islamic year began in 622 AD with the Hijra of Prophet Muhammed, which marks his emigration from Mecca to Medina and follows the lunar calendar.
The Romans originally celebrated their new year on the vernal equinox. They worked part of the day since remaining idle on the day was viewed as bad omen. In 46 BC, Julius Ceasar introduced the Julian calendar and declared 1st January as the new year.
NEW YEARS OF INDIA
While Christians and the general public celebrate 1st January as the new year, the other religions celebrate the new year based on the lunar calendar.
People of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka celebrate Ugadi, their new year on the first day of the Chaitra month of the Hindu lunisolar calendar, which falls in March or April. Maharashtra, Goa and Konkan regions celebrate Gudi Padwa on this day, in Kashmir it is Navreh, for Sindhis it is Cheti Chand, and for Manipuris, it is Cheiroba.
Vishu is celebrated by the people of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, marking the completion of the spring equinox, and falls in the middle of April. Punjab celebrates it as Baisakhi, which is a harvest festival. Assam celebrates it as Rongali Bihu, Bengal as Poila Baisakh, and Odisha as Bihuva Sankranti.
Gujarat celebrates its new year on the first day of Shukla Paksha (waxing moon) of the month of Kartik, which falls on the day after Diwali. Marwaris celebrate theirs on Diwali, which is the last day of Krishna Paksha (waning moon) of the month of Ashwin.
In Sikkim, Losoong or Sonam Losar is celebrated in December, marking the end of harvest and the beginning of a new year.
Despite the many new years that are celebrated around the world, 1st January continues to be celebrated widely, in addition to the local new years.
The Council of Tours of the Church considered new year celebrations pagan and replaced 1st January with Easter, which fell on the first Sunday after the ecclesiastical full moon on or immediately after 21st March.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the reformed Gregorian calendar which was named after him and restored 1st January as the new year. A 0.002 percent correction was made to the Julian calendar year to stop the calendar from drifting with respect to the equinoxes and solstices. This was particularly relevant to the northern vernal equinox which sets the date for Easter.
Catholic nations adopted it first, followed by Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Slavic nations and Greece. Until 1752, Britain and its colonies continued to celebrate the new year in March. Greece was the last European nation to adopt the new calendar in 1923.