Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year History and Origin

If you look long back into the history and origin of human civilization, you’ll find the New Year being celebrated on different dates by different groups of people across the length and breadth of the globe. Celebrating January 1 as the New Year’s Day is only a matter of the last few centuries. History states that the New Year celebration is the oldest of the holidays and is believed to be first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. This New Year festivity lasted for eleven days in Babylon.Some even hold that in 153 B.C, it was the Romans who first observed the first day of January as the beginning of a New Year. But this wasn’t for any seasonal or agricultural reasons; the Romans chose it simply for civil reasons; it was the day when the newly elected consuls would assume their new positions in the Roman Empire. Prior to this, the day of the vernal equinox, March 25, was their New Year Day.

There were not any significant reforms in the calendar until 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII introduced further changes in the calendar system and finally gave shape to the today’s system of calendar calculation and division of the year. Not just that, he also reinforced January 1 as the New Year Day, its pre-Christian connotations notwithstanding. This Gregorian calendar, based on the Roman model, was soon adopted by the Catholic countries. However, it took a little time for the Reformists to follow suit. Great Britain and its American colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar in the year 1752 and before long, this came to be recognized as the official calendar in all countries over the world.

New Year has both religious and secular aspects. The Roman Catholics observe New Year Day as a day of obligation, while the rest of the Christians around the world celebrate New Year as a day of worship, followed by merry-making at night .But with gradual spread of Christianity, the church started its own way of outwitting pagan celebrations—they observed their individual religious observances for the occasions. New Year was no exception. Hence, the New Year Day is still observed as the Feast of Christ's Circumcision by some Christian denominations.

At different places around the world, different kinds of people have their own unique ways of New Year celebrations while most countries celebrate New Year on January 1, some countries like China and Iran celebrate it on different dates. The New Year celebrations of the Iranians are in March to welcome spring. Rosh Hashanah or the Jewish New Year is celebrated in late September or early October.

In India, New Year is celebrated at the beginning of each season. Diwali which is celebrated at the beginning of autumn is also known as the ‘festival of lights’. Hundreds of diyas (small handmade oil lamps) are lit in each house and firecrackers are burnt to drive away the evil and welcome the good. Baisakhi is the New Year celebration at the beginning of spring. It marks the beginning of the Hindu solar year. The festival sees a lot of merrymaking with firecrackers, wearing of new clothes, feasting and dancing.New Year customs and traditions that are followed today have their roots way back in the ancient societies. In the ancient societies, the number of harvests determined the number of New Year they had. New Year over the years has always symbolized a new beginning and the New Year customs and traditions are a result of prevalent customs and traditions of New Year across the world. If you look closely, you will notice that the customs and traditions we follow today on New Year are modified versions of these ancient practices.

The Open House, which was started by George Washington, is yet another of the New Year customs and traditions that still prevails. It is the tradition of holding a feast to which all are invited. However in the past, the custom was exploited and many people took it as an opportunity to just eat and drink as much as they could, wherever they could. So slowly people began sending invitations and only the invitees were allowed at the feast. Hence it declined to some extent, but at a few places, it is still practiced.
* Previously it was believed that the fate of the whole year could be affected by what people did on the first day of the New Year. So they celebrated a lot during the first few hours of the New Year and this custom is happily followed even today with people partying into the late hours of the night on New Year’s Eve and New Year Day. The food that people have on New Year is often symbolic too. Anything that is circular is customarily the item of choice as it is a representation of ‘the coming of the full circle’.The New Year customs and traditions have become a part of the celebrations during New Year in the United States of America as also in the rest of the world. Go ahead and enjoy the brand New Year ahead with all its fun customs and traditions.