It’s a New Year…


Marlene Smith

January, 2005


Past Columns

Dec 2004



I thought about how simple it would be to just write this article with well wishes for a Happy New Year. It would be just that easy to wish the usual prosperity and good fortune to all of you, and though I would have meant it, just seemed to canned and more of the “usual” fare.

Trying to think of something with a little bit of a twist made me want to know how other people around the world celebrate their New Year. We simply base ours on a calendar date, maybe have a few drinks, make some noise, kiss-kiss, then off to bed – only to get up the next morning ready to make this years’ resolutions work. Is there anything more to it than that?

Occurring October or November, Diwali (Hindi New Year) is the most popular Hindu festival of the year. It is both the beginning of winter and the beginning of the new year. Traditionally Diwali lasts for five days, with the most important celebration coming on the night before the new moon appears. Diwali is celebrated with the expectation of good luck and prosperity during the coming year. If signifies a time to pay debts, clean house and dress in good clothes and jewelry.

Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) comes in early autumn. At synagogues everywhere the rabbi blows a special ram's horn called a Shofar, which signifies the need to prepare spiritually for the upcoming year and serves as a reminder to do good and lead a God-fearing life in the new year. Rosh Hashanah is a solemn time and during the New Year's meal it is traditional to eat a piece of fruit dipped in honey to make sure that the new year will be full of sweet things. The final day, ten days after Rosh Hashanah begins, is called Yom Kippur or "Day of Atonement." It is the most important day on the Jewish calendar. This is the day to make up for (or 'atone' for) your mistakes and wrongdoings during the past year. Jewish people do not work on this day but attend religion services and fast from sunset to sunset.

In Japan, the New Year is called Shogatsu or Genjitsu (Japanese New Year). Before the New Year's holidays, all school and office work must be finished and every house must be clean inside and out. Unlike many other Asian cultures, the Japanese celebrate New Year's Day on January 1. In fact, the days before and after January 1 have become times of celebration, and the New Year's season often stretches from the last week in November to the first week in January. At midnight on December 31, a gong at each local shrine is struck by a monk, and the tolling of the gong means all mistakes from the past year are forgiven.

The Chinese New Year comes at the end of January or beginning of February. The Chinese calendar is based on the moon, not on the sun like the calendar we use is America, so their New Year comes at different times. However, it always comes in winter and it lasts for 15 days. It is the time to honor one's ancestors and to share a feast with family and friends. People prepare for the New Year by cleaning their houses, and they put away sharp things like scissors and knives so that nothing will cut the luck of the New Year.

For Vietnamese Americans, Tet is like lots of celebrations all rolled into one! It lasts for three days and comes sometime between January 21 and February 19 and has been celebrated by Vietnamese people for over 4,000 years. Peach blossoms are one symbol of Tet and serve as a reminder of the new year and the coming of spring, while red is the color for Tet. Paying back debts before Tet begins is customary. Arguments are avoided and mistakes forgiven. During Tet everyone visits family and friends. It is believed that the first visitor of the new year brings good luck or bad luck with them. To make sure their luck is good, the families often invite someone important or well liked to be their first visitor. Therefore, it's an honor to be asked to be the first visitor in someone's home.

The American Traditional New Year’s Eve celebration really is not that different from all the other celebrations worldwide. One ancient New Year's custom was to make as much noise as possible to scare evil spirits away from the new year, and by the 1700's, colonists in America were continuing this tradition with cheers, shouting and using noisemakers on New Year's Eve. These traditions, along with lighting firecrackers, continues to the present day.

January is named for the Roman god, Janus. He is pictured with two faces one looking forward and one looking backward. This symbolizes the connection with both the ending of the old year and the beginning the new one. In America, we use different symbols to represent the same things. An old man with a beard usually symbolizes the old year and a baby in diapers the new one.

George Washington began the custom of holding a party on New Year's Day where everyone was welcome. This became known as having an "open house" and is still done in many places today.

Making New Year's resolutions is a modern approach to keeping evil away during the New Year. People decide to improve their lives by making promises to do good things or not to do bad things. New Year's Resolutions are one way to promise yourself, your family, or your friends that you will do one or more things differently. Resolutions can be the beginning of setting goals for the new year. Of course it's always easier to make a resolution than keep it. Keeping it is hard work.

So I guess our traditions to ring in the New Year are not that different from the rest of the world. We all wish each other health, happiness, prosperity, bathe one another in the glow of forgiveness and love, and always look forward with hope to the new year. And as hokey as it sounds, I guess it just comes down to wishing you all a wonderful and prosperous new year, with much love, health and happiness to you and your families.

"What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."
T. S. Eliot, "Four Quartets"

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