Wednesday, December 28, 2011

January 1st New Year’s Day – Is it for Everyone?

Yes, it is for everyone who uses the Gregorian calendar. However, some nations use a different calendar even if the Gregorian calendar is widely used. It is not uncommon for certain countries and religious groups to either follow a different calendar totally or to use two calendars to track significant dates. In the case of the New Year’s Day, many celebrate it on two different dates. One date, January 1, is based on the Gregorian calendar. The other date for New Year’s Day is based on a calendar important to the culture or prevalent religion of the country.

Buddhist New Year

The dates for Buddhist New Year fall on different days of the year depending on the principles and values of the countries where Buddhism is practiced. Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka are just some of the countries that practice Buddhism. The dates are based on the Buddhist calendar, which is luni-solar. For the above-mentioned countries, New Year starts on the first day of the full moon in the month of April. In countries where Mahayana Buddhism is practiced (Vietnam, Korea and China, for example), the New Year begins on the first full moon in the month of January, sometimes even in the earlier part of February. In Tibet, the Buddhist New Year starts in March according to the Tibetan calendar.
One thing remains the same regardless of the date when the Buddhist New Year’s Day falls – the first day of the Buddhist New Year is a time for reflection and introspection. Prayers are offered and rituals are performed in worship of Lord Buddha. Practicing Buddhists visit temples as well as monasteries. Social celebrations are also part of commemorating the New Year. Households and surroundings are tidied up, people wear new clothes, visit families and close friends, share special sweet dishes, exchange gifts, and when the clock strikes 12 on the eve of the New Year, light firecrackers to usher in the New Year.

Chinese New Year

The Chinese are found all over the world. They brought with them their own culture and beliefs which they continue to practice and share with others. One of the most well known Chinese events is Chinese New Year. The Chinese follow the lunar calendar. The first day of the lunar calendar may fall on any day between January 20 and February 20. It is a big celebration with red being the predominant color of their New Year. The color red is said to bring good fortune. Small red envelopes are given out containing money to children and adults alike. Fireworks, dragon dances, and other forms of merriment happen on the eve and on the first day Chinese New Year. Special foods make their appearance on dining tables and everyone dresses up for the occasion. Even people with no Chinese blood running through their veins join the fun. For 2012, the Chinese New Year will fall on January 23 on the Gregorian calendar.

Ethiopian New Year

The Ge’ez or Ethiopian calendar, the main calendar Ethiopians use, is based on the Coptic calendar. Enkutatash or Ethiopian New Year, which is Meskerem 1 on the Ethiopian calendar, is equivalent to the 11th of September on the Gregorian calendar. For leap years, it coincides with September 12. The word “Enkutatash” translates to “gift of jewels” and has a connection to one of the famous queens in history, Queen Sheba. When Queen Sheba returned to her country of Ethiopia from Jerusalem, after visiting King Solomon, her chiefs brought her jewels or inku in order to replenish her treasury. Enkutatash, a spring celebration, marks the end of heavy rains. Much singing, dancing and other forms of fun activities are held throughout Ethiopia.

Hindu New Year

The Hindu calendar dictates when the Hindu New Year’s Day is observed. The event usually depends on when the Sun enters the Mesha (Aries). Usually, this happens on April 13 or 14, taking into consideration whether the year is a leap year or not. It is important to note that different Hindu sects may celebrate Hindu New Year on different dates. The Hindu New Year is the start of spring, a time when nature wakes up from months of wintery sleep. To welcome the New Year, celebrations are held in Hindu communities throughout the world. Parents and elders bless children both young and old. Families and friends exchange gifts as well as good wishes for a good year ahead. This coming 2012 is very important for the Hindus because according to their beliefs, this may be the start of the Golden Age.

Iranian (Persian) New Year

In Iran and other countries of Central and South Asia where similar cultures reside, Persian New Year is celebrated according to the 1st day of the Iranian calendar. Persian New Year or Nowruz falls on the day of the vernal equinox, usually the start of spring. This holiday was originally a Zoroastrian festival. In 2012, Nowruz will fall on March 21.

Islamic New Year

Hijri New Year (Islamic New Year) falls on the first day of Muharram. Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar. Some Muslims spend time reflecting on their lives at the start of the year. Others prepare for the Day of Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram. This is the day when Muslims commemorate the death of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Husayn ibn Ali, in Karbala (in Iraq). Fasting is done during the 10th day. Some start fasting on the 9th and continue on till the 11th day of Muharram. Special prayers are offered during the New Year. The Shi’a Muslims go on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Husayn where Husayn ibn Ali is buried. The customs, rituals and celebrations depend on the different Muslim groups.

The Islamic year is shorter than the Gregorian year by about 11 to 12 days. Astronomical calculations are usually the basis for determining the New Year although some Islamic groups still prefer to rely on local lunar sighting. According to the Gregorian calendar, people of the Islamic faith will celebrate Hijri on November 14, 2012. The Islamic New Year started last November 26, 2011.

Jewish New Year

The Jews celebrate their New Year in autumn. Rosh Hashanah, literally translated as “head of the year,” is their New Year. It falls on days 1 and 2 of Tishrei. Tishrei, according to the Hebrew calendar, is the seventh month of the Jewish year. Why is the New Year celebrated on the seventh month? Judaism has different “new years” for different events.

The entire month before Rosh Hashanah is dedicated to self-examination as well as repentance for sins of the past. According to the Torah, Rosh Hashanah is the “day of sounding” or “blowing of horns.” The shofar, traditionally a ram’s horn, is blown on Rosh Hashanah according to Jewish customs. Jews do not work on Rosh Hashanah. They gather for prayer in synagogues, partake of traditional Rosh Hashanah foods including honey, apples, pomegranates, and wine. For 2012, Rosh Hashanah will start on the sunset of September 16, 2012 to the nightfall of September 18, 2012.

Korean New Year

The Koreans follow a lunar calendar in conjunction with the Gregorian calendar. According to their lunar calendar, the first day of the year or Seollal will fall on January 23 of the Gregorian calendar. Seollal is given more importance as a holiday than the Gregorian New Year’s Day, although both are celebrated in Korea. The New Year’s celebration usually extends for three days in Korea. Seollal is a special time for family. The three-day holiday gives Koreans time to visit parents and relatives whether near or far. Sebae is a Korean tradition that has been observed for many years. Children dress in hanbok, which is the traditional Korean clothing, and perform a deep bow in honor of their parents and elders. The children are rewarded with crisp paper money and sometimes with traditional rice cakes and fruits. Ancestors are also given importance during the Korean New Year.

January 1st on the Gregorian calendar is the most popular New Year’s Day in the world. However, it is also important to know other races and cultures have their own New Year’s Day. One thing that is common to all New Year’s Day is that it is a time to reflect on the past and a time to make resolutions to improve one’s self and be a benefit to others. New Year’s Day is an important milestone for everyone regardless of race, creed or status in life. It should be greeted with much hope for a better future.


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