THE TRADITION OF NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS dates back to 153 BC. C. Janus, a mythical king of ancient Rome, was placed at the head of the calendar.
With two faces, Janus could look back on past events and into the future. Janus became the ancient symbol of resolutions and many Romans sought forgiveness from their enemies and also exchanged gifts before the beginning of each year.
The New Year has not always started on January 1 and does not start on that date everywhere today. It begins on that date only for cultures that use a 365-day solar calendar. January 1 became the beginning of the New Year in 46 BC. C., when Julius Caesar developed a calendar that would reflect the seasons more accurately than previous calendars.
The Romans named the first month of the year in honor of Janus, the god of beginnings and the guardian of gates and entrances. He was always represented with two faces, one on the front of the head and one on the back. Thus, he could look back and forward at the same time. At midnight on December 31, the Romans envisioned Janus looking back to the old year and to the new.
The Romans began the tradition of exchanging gifts on New Year’s Eve by giving each other sacred tree branches for good luck. Later, walnuts or coins imprinted with the god Janus became more common New Year gifts.
In the Middle Ages, Christians changed New Year’s Day to December 25, the birth of Jesus. Then they changed it to March 25, a holiday called the Annunciation. In the 16th century, Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar and the New Year celebration was returned to January 1.
The Julian and Gregorian calendars are solar calendars. However, some cultures have lunar calendars. A year on a lunar calendar has fewer than 365 days because the months are based on the phases of the moon. The Chinese use a lunar calendar. Your new year begins at the time of the first full moon (over the Far East) after the sun enters Aquarius, sometime between January 19 and February 21.
Although the date of New Year’s Day is not the same in all cultures, it is always a time of celebration and customs to ensure good luck in the coming year.
Old new year
The New Year’s celebration is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. In the years around 2000 a. C., the Babylonians celebrated the beginning of a new year in what today is March 23, although they themselves did not have a written calendar.
Actually, the end of March is a logical choice for the start of a new year. It is the time of year when spring begins and new crops are planted. January 1, on the other hand, has neither astronomical nor agricultural significance. It is purely arbitrary.
The Babylonian New Year celebration lasted eleven days. Each day had its own particular mode of celebration, but it’s safe to say that modern New Year’s Eve festivities pale in comparison.
The Romans continued to observe the New Year on March 25, but their calendar was continually altered by various emperors, so the calendar soon became out of sync with the sun.
To correct the calendar, the Roman Senate, in 153 BC. C., declared January 1 as the beginning of the New Year. But the manipulation continued until Julius Caesar, in 46 BC. C., established what is known as the Julian Calendar. Again he established January 1 as the New Year. But to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year go on for 445 days.
Global Good Luck Traditions
With the New Year upon us, here’s a look at some of the good luck rituals from around the world. It is believed that they will bring good fortune and prosperity in the coming year.
AUSTRIA – The suckling pig is the symbol of good luck for the new year. It is served on a table decorated with small edible pigs. Dessert often consists of spearmint ice cream in the shape of a four-leaf clover.
ENGLAND – The British put their fortune for next year in the hands of their first guest. They believe that the first visitor of each year should be a man and bring gifts. Traditional gifts are charcoal for the fire, a bread for the table, and a drink for the teacher. For good luck, the guest must enter through the front door and exit through the back. Empty-handed or unwanted guests cannot enter first.
WALES – At the first toll of midnight, the back door opens and then closes to free the old year and block out all his bad luck. Then, at twelve chimes on the clock, the front door opens and the New Year is greeted with all its luck.
HAITI – In Haiti, New Year’s Day is a sign of the year ahead. Haitians wear new clothes and exchange gifts in the hope that it bodes well for the new year.
SICILY – An ancient Sicilian tradition says that good luck will come to those who eat lasagna on New Year’s Day, but alas if you eat macaroni, because any other noodle will bring bad luck!
SPAIN – In Spain, when the clock strikes midnight, Spaniards eat 12 grapes, one with each toll, to bring good luck for the next 12 months.
PERU – The Peruvian New Year custom is a twist on the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes at the end of the year. But in Peru, a number 13 grape must be eaten to ensure good luck.
GREECE – A special New Year’s bread is baked with a coin buried in the dough. The first portion is for the child Jesus, the second portion is for the father of the house, and the third portion is for the house. If the third slice contains the coin, spring will arrive early that year.
JAPAN – The Japanese decorate their houses in homage to the lucky gods. One tradition, kadomatsu, consists of a pine branch symbolizing longevity, a bamboo stem symbolizing prosperity, and a plum blossom displaying nobility.
CHINA – For the Chinese New Year, each front door is adorned with a fresh coat of red paint, red is a symbol of good luck and happiness. Although the whole family prepares a feast for the New Year, all knives are put away for 24 hours to prevent anyone from being cut, which is believed to cut off the family’s good fortune for the coming year.
UNITED STATES – The kiss shared at the stroke of midnight in the United States stems from masked balls that have been common throughout history. As tradition says, the masks symbolize the evil spirits of the old year and the kiss is the purification of the new year.
NORWAY – The Norwegians make rice pudding on New Years and hide a whole almond inside. The guaranteed wealth goes to the person whose ration has the lucky kernel.
Chinese New Year
Except for a very small number of people who can keep track of when the Chinese New Year should be, most Chinese today have to rely on a typical Chinese calendar to count it. Therefore, you cannot talk about the Chinese New Year without mentioning the Chinese calendar at the beginning.
A Chinese calendar consists of the Gregorian and lunar-solar systems, the latter dividing a year into twelve months, each of which, in turn, is equally divided into thirty-nine and a half days. The well-coordinated dual system calendar reflects Chinese ingenuity.
There is also a system that marks the years in a twelve-year cycle, naming each of them with the name of an animal such as Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Wild pig. People born in a particular year are believed to share some of the personalities of that particular animal.