It’s New Year’s Eve! Wow that came about quickly. It has been a good year from the beginning, so let us go back to the very beginning. Most of us celebrate or at least witness New Years every year; the fireworks, the parties, the family get-togethers, but few of us know why we celebrate it on such a particular day, the 1st of January.
January the first marks the beginning of the modern Gregorian calendar in addition to the Julian Calender of the ancient Romans. So it has been the custom for more than a few years! It is true that many people celebrate other days in correspondence with other religions, customs and calendars, but as it is December 31st, today let us focus on January the first.
In Roman times the first day of January was the day of Janus who was the god of beginnings, doors and gateways (symbols in themselves of new beginnings). As we say we open doors to new opportunities, new beginnings. Janus had two faces looking forward and backward and as such is a suitable personification of the New Year. The calendar was reformed by Julius Caesar in 46 BC and when he was murdered in Roman senate deified him on the 1st of January in recognition of his life and new calendar’s beginning in the year 42 BC.
Not everywhere turned to the Gregorian calendar and January the first as New Year at the same time. Like most things that are established throughout a large area, it took time. The majority of the countries in Western Europe did however adopt the New Year before adopting the Gregorian calendar. England only adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752. This Gregorian calendar I keep mentioning is the current Christian Calendar introduced by decree in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. It was introduced to fix the assumptions of the Julian calendar which assumed that the yr was made up of 35.25 days, where as in reality it is 11 minutes shorter which accumulated over time to knock the year out by several days.
The first of the Western European areas to adopt January first as their New Year was The Republic of Venice in 1522 followed by the Holy Roman Empire in Germany in 1544. Spain, Portugal, Prussian, Sweden, France, Netherlands and Lorraine changed also before the end of the sixteenth century. Scotland moved over in the 1600s and Russia and Tuscany in the 1700s. The rest of Great Britain and its colonies, which would include Australia, adopted January the first in 1752.
But enough with the dates, I find them interesting but I am peculiar. What I am now wondering is how all these different people around the world traditionally celebrate this day, because everywhere and everyone celebrates a little differently.
Japan brings in the New Year by forgiving misunderstandings and grudges and Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times to expel the 108 types of human weakness. Children receive gifts and money and cards are traditional. In Greece, New Years is also the festival of one of the founders of the Greek Orthodox Church, St Basil. And the Greeks know how to throw a great festival! The Dutch burn bonfires of Christmas trees and let off fireworks, this is to get rid of the old and welcome the new.
In Scotland, New Years is also Hogmanay, neighbours visit neighbours which is called First footing. Traditionally it is good luck for a tall dark handsome man to be the first to visit in the New Year. Sounds good to me. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is the largest in the country consisting of an all-night street party with a Torchlight procession, ceilidh and games.
The United States have a famous tradition in New York City of dropping the New Year ball in Times Square. Seems a bit odd to drop a ball but there you go. The traditional began in 1907 though I haven’t yet had a chance to find out why…
And then there are the fireworks, which I will be attending the famous fireworks tonight in Sydney Harbour, speaking of which it’s time to go! So remember all the people around the world, new beginnings, make good wishes to friends and even enemies.
Wishing everyone a Happy New Year! voorspoedige nuwejaar! عام سعيد! godt nytår! bonne année! ein gutes neues Jahr! שנה טובה! kali chronia! felix sit annus novus! bliadhna mhath ur! And all that Jazz
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