It all started in Babylon
Did you know that the New Year was not always celebrated on January 1? Some cultures still celebrate the New Year on other days.
New Year was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4,000 years ago. In the years around 2,000 BC, the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon at the beginning of spring and lasted 11 days. Each day had its own particular mode of celebration and modern festivities pale in comparison.
The Romans continued to observe the new year in late March but their calendar soon lost its synchronisation with the sun.
In order to set the calendar right, the Roman senate, in 153 BC, declared January 1 the beginning of the new year. But tampering continued until Julius Caesar, in 46 BC, established what has come to be known as the Julian Calendar. It re-established January 1 as the new year. But in order to synchronise the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for 445 days.
In 567 AD the Council of Tours abolished January 1 in favour of March as the start of a new year, varying the actual day to coincide with the Vernal Equinox.
The first day of the new year was moved back to January 1 with the advent of the Gregorian Calendar by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.
The Bahai people have their own calendar consisting of 19 months of 19 days each with a couple of extra days between the 18th and 19th months. They have, however, adopted the Iranian custom of beginning the New Year in the spring equinox. The day begins at sunset rather than midnight and the New Year celebrations are held during the evening of March 20.
The north-western Indian state of Gujarat celebrates its New Year festival of Diwali in the months of October or November. One of the most ancient Hindu festivals, Diwali symbolises the triumph of good over evil. It is only in Gujarat that it is considered as the New Year festival. In fact, the second day of the festival is actually the new year's Day of Gujarati.
On the night of the Diwali festival everything is decorated with lights and lamps. Bottles of coloured water may also be placed in front of the lamps and there are also firework displays. The children receive sweets, ice cream and toys in the shapes of houses, boats, people and animals.
The celebration of the Buddhist New Year is also an occasion of great joy. People squirt water on whomever they meet in the streets, regardless of whether it is a friend or a stranger. Homage is paid to the various statues of the Buddha, which are ceremonially bathed.
Members of the Hmong culture celebrate their New Year festival with everyone in the community. The New Year is the only time of the year these people get a day off farming and they celebrate it at the end of the harvesting of the rice. Preferably, their New Year festival coincides with that of other nearby villages so that the unmarried men of the village can meet prospective wives in other communities.
The Jewish New Year Festival is called Rosh Hashanah. The date varies each year, as they have their own calendar which is lunisolar in nature. The New Year is on the first two days of the seventh month, so that the farmers could visit Jerusalem before the winter rains came.
At dinner on New Year's Eve festival candles are lit and the table is decorated with seasonal fare, especially grapes. Other foods that are served are Challah (bread), honey cake and fish.
A special service is held on New Year, which ends with the blowing of the shofar. People who are too ill to attend the service try to find someone to blow the shofar for them. After 10 days there is repentance culminating on Yom Kippur with a 24-hour fast which ends at sunset with a final note on the shofar, signifying the closing of the Book of Life.
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