6-22 The Fascinating 1920s with Lauri Robinson

Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's Traditions - When? Where? Why? by Sarah Raplee

LISTEN UP, READERS! I went down the research rabbit hole and this blog post is the result. Be forewarned.

Although many countries and peoples around the world celebrate New Years’ Day on January 1st (according to the Gregorian Calendar,) not every country nor every religion follows the Gregorian Calendar. Named after Pope Gregory XIII, the Gregorian Calendar was officially introduced in Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain in 1582 to replace the Julian calendar, which was considered too inaccurate.
Interestingly, many countries that are not predominantly Christian use the Gregorian Calendar for government business and other secular activities. And lots of predominantly Christian countries include many citizens following different religious or cultural systems. It stands to reason that billions of people observe two different New Years’ celebrations. (As a member of the Baha’I Faith, I am one of those people.)

Most of the Gregorian New Year’s celebrations take place on New Years’ Eve and involve fireworks. Sydney, Australia, puts on the world’s biggest fireworks display at the waterfront near the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.

A less-widely-known observance occurs in Rio De Janeiro. The traditional celebration of Reveillon includes millions of people standing along Copacabana Beach. All dress in white and throw flowers into the ocean to honor Iemanjá, the goddess of the sea, according to the African religion of Candomblé. There’s also live music, dancing and a wonderful fireworks display, along with many traditions and superstitions. And parties! Reveillon is also observed in New Orleans.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is Scotland’s world-famous New Year’s festival, presenting three days of spectacular events. Festivals, parades, street parties and concerts lead up to fireworks bringing in the new year. The celebration lasts through New Year’s Day.


Baha’i New Year, Naw Ruzmarks the Vernal (spring) Equinox, when day and night are equal in length and spring begins in the northern hemisphere. For members of the Baha’I Faith, work and school are suspended. The new year marks the end of the month of fasting and is usually celebrated with a festive get-together including prayers, dinner, music, dancing, and other fun activities. There are few fixed rules for observing Naw-Rúz. Bahá'ís all over the world celebrate it as a festive day, according to local custom.
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Pagan New Year, Midwinter (or Winter Solstice) Many Pagans consider the festival of Midwinter, or Winter Solstice (usually Dec. 21st) as a celebration of the transition from the old year to the new.  In the past month, the sun was ebbing. In the new month, the sun waxes brighter. This reversal symbolizes the rebirth of the solar god and foretells the coming of the fertile seasons. The ancient megalithic sites of Newgrange and Stonehenge are precisely aligned with the Winter Solstice sunrise and sunset. Practices vary, but usually include offerings, feasting, and gift-giving. Tree decorating and bringing evergreen boughs, sprigs and wreaths into the home are common customs.

Muslim New Year, Al-Hijra, marks the Hijra (or Hegira) in 622 CE when the Prophet Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina, and set up the first Islamic state. The date marks the beginning of Islam as a community in which spiritual and earthly life were completely integrated. There is no specific religious ritual required on this day, but Muslims will think about the general meaning of Hijra, and regard this as a good time for 'New Year Resolutions'.

Chinese New Year The Gregorian calendar is used in China for civil purposes in modern times. The Chinese Calendar is used to determine important festival dates, such as Chinese New Year, as well as auspicious dates, such as wedding dates. Chinese New Year is celebrated for fifteen days and falls  between January 21 and February 21 on the Gregorian Calendar. This is considered the most important festival of the year, with many traditions. People go to the temple and pray for good luck in the coming year and to have their fortunes told. They clean their homes to sweep out the bad luck that has accumulated in the past year. Red is the New Year’s color, representing good fortune. People hang red decorations and wear red clothes. At midnight when the New Year begins, people set of firecrackers that are loud and mostly lit on the ground. The loud noises are thought to scare the bad spirits away, to prevent them from bringing bad luck.

Buddhist New Year For three days after the first full moon of April, Buddhists celebrate New Year’s Day in certain countries. In other countries, the New Year is celebrated around the full moon in January. The time it is celebrated depends on the country and people. For example, people in Tibet celebrate at the full moon of February, while people in China, Vietnam and Korea celebrate at the end of January or the beginning of February. Customs and traditions vary in different countries and among different forms of Buddhism as well. For all Buddhists, visits to temples or monasteries are important. All include feasting and merrymaking.



Judith Ashley said...

So glad you went down the rabbit hole of research, Sarah. So important, especially in these times, to see the beauty in diversity.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Nice summary of all the new years--thanks, Sarah!

Luanna Stewart said...

I loved reading about the varied traditions and the meanings behind them. We ring in the new year at a house party with mulled wine around the bonfire followed by a delicious potluck supper and glasses of bubbly as the clock strikes midnight.
Thank you for exploring that rabbit hole!

Maggie Lynch said...

Nice post, Sarah. I always love hearing about the many ways humans celebrate important dates and festivals. As Judith said, diversity is beautiful. Equally beautiful is all the traditions have grown out of each other.

For example, sweeping out the bad luck to make room for good luck that you described in Chinese celebrations is similar to the Scottish Hogmanay tradition of sweeping out the past in order to move forward in the future.

The pagan practice of decorating trees, gift-giving, bringing boughs and wreaths into the home are a direct predecessor to what most Americans do today for Christmas and most Christians have adapted as part of their practices.

The celebration of New Year on or near Spring Equinox also has deep roots in an agrarian society where spring brings new life.

In the end we are all more alike than not--no matter where are personal or spiritual beliefs lie. I love the Baha-i belief and work toward the coming together of all religions and nations in peace. I love the Baha'i belief that there have been many messengers of God--including Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus, the Baha'ulla and many others.

I personally celebrate the New Year via the Gregorian calendar more as a matter of seeming worldwide agreement to a calendar we can all share. On a spiritual level I evaluate the past on New Year's Eve and determine what lessons I have learned and what I want to bring forward into the New Year. On New Year's day I do practice a type of sweeping away of the past in order to make room for the future. Not to forget the past, but to memorialize it and thus leave space for new opportunities in the coming year.

Though you are well into your new year, Sarah (at the half way point?) I hope that it is treating you well and that you are finding points of peace and light that are guiding your way and providing a semblance of hope for the universal peace you and most of us crave.