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Fireworks, parties, loud noises, champagne and a kiss at midnight are some of the modern traditions at the dawning of a new year, but celebrating the new year is an age-old practice.

New Year’s is one of the oldest of all holidays — its observance dates back to ancient Babylon about 4,000 years ago.

However, Babylonians celebrated the new year around the first day of spring with celebrations lasting 11 days.

Western Calendars

In the Western world, the date of Jan. 1 was not recognized as the first day of the new year until 153 B.C.E. when the Roman Senate declared it so in an attempt to reestablish the calender in synchronization with the sun.

Tampering with the calendar continued until Julius Caesar established the Julian Calendar in 46 B.C.E. and kept Jan. 1 as the first day of the new year.

January was named after the Roman god, Janus, the god of all beginnings, whose image was often carved above gates and doorways, according to Encyclopædia Britannica. Janus is depicted with two heads, one facing forward and one backward.

By the 15th century, the Julian Calendar was out of synch by more than one week. Pope Gregory XIII, on the advice of Christopher Clavius, a Jesuit priest, declared Oct. 4, 1582, was to be the last day of the Julian Calendar, then skip nine days — the next day would be Oct. 15, 1582.

The new Gregorian Calendar was slow to be accepted. Only the Catholic states of Italy, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Holland and Poland accepted the calendar the year it was established. Two years later German and Swiss Catholic states accepted it and Hungary in 1587.

It was more than 100 years before other countries came on board when, in 1700, German, Swiss and Dutch Protestant states, Denmark and Norway started using the calendar.

Great Britain and its possessions, including the American colonies, started using the calendar in 1753. It was another hundred-plus years before Japan, then Egypt, in 1873 and 1875, followed suit, with the Republic of China in 1912, Russia in 1918, Greece in 1924 and Turkey in 1926.

The last country to adopt the Gregorian calendar was the People’s Republic of China in 1949, 367 years after its introduction, according to Encyclopædia Britannica.

World Traditions

Not all countries celebrate the new year on Jan. 1. In Thailand, it is celebrated on Jan. 14, the same as in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

In Tibet the new year falls sometime between January and March. The Vietnamese New Year is the Tet Nguyen Dan, which is generally the same day as the Chinese New Year, celebrated between Jan. 17 and Feb. 19. In 2010, it will be Sunday, Feb. 14.

A more uncommon celebration includes gathering on beaches on New Year’s Day to run into the ocean. Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia are the most popular countries for the practice. In Chicago, members of the Polar Bear Club plan their annual dip for noon Friday, Jan. 1, braving the icy water of Lake Michigan, which is forecast to be 34 degrees Fahrenheit.

Most people, however, indulge in the less frosty forms of celebrating the new year. One is to make New Year’s Resolutions.

Many countries celebrate with parades. A prime example is the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., followed by the Rose Bowl college football game, this year between Ohio State University and the University of Oregon.

A Pennsylvania Dutch tradition is to eat a meal of pork, cabbage and new potatoes. The practice comes from a tradition that dictates these foods will bring good luck in the new year. In Southern states the meal is prepared with collard greens, black-eyed peas and lentils, also for luck.

In Norway, it is customary to hide an almond in a batch of rice pudding. The person who gets the almond in his or her serving is assured of wealth and good fortune.

New Year’s Eve, the night before New Year’s Day, has become famous for celebrating with parties, food, drink and waiting for the stroke of midnight. Many turn on the television to watch an illuminated ball drop at Times Square in New York City. The brightly lit crystal ball begins its descent at 11:59 p.m. and arrives at the bottom of the pole at midnight, kicking off a fireworks display.

Other countries have celebrations with large fireworks displays, such as England, Japan, Brazil and Australia, where in Sydney more than 80,000 fireworks are launched at midnight.

A common image is of Baby New Year chasing Father Time, representing the old year, into history.

New Year’s Superstitions

While the new year is celebrated with gaiety, it also has some superstitions. Kissing at midnight ensures those

affections and ties continue for the next 12 months. Loud noises scare away evil spirits.

A baby born on Jan. 1 will have luck on their side. Crying should be avoided as well as washing dishes and laundry, profanity or breaking things because it could lead to a death in the family. Others include wearing new clothes to receive more new clothing during the new year and leaving a bit of New Year’s Eve dinner on the plate to ensure a full supply of food. Dancing in the open air on New Year’s day brings luck in love and prosperity.

Many believe opening the doors of the house at midnight allows the old year to escape, without letting precious things leave the house. Also, stuff pockets and billfolds with money to attract more.

Along with the belief that what we do on the first day of the year sets a pattern for the next 12 months, the first footing, or the first person to walk in the door after midnight, will influence the year.

It is also believed the direction of the wind during the sunrise on New Year’s Day decides the luck for the coming year.

If the wind is from the east it predicts natural calamities. Wind from the west predicts wealth but the death of an important person. A wind from the north means a year of bad weather, but from the south there is prosperity. However, no wind at all means prosperity and joy throughout the year.

Despite the superstitions, the new year is a good time for renewal and starting over no matter what traditions a person adheres to.

Happy New Year everyone and may it be prosperous.

 

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