Summary: God assures us of a future that is better than all our past.
Faithfully Facing our Future
New Year’s Customs
Not all countries celebrate the New Year at the same time or in the same way because of different calendars and customs.
In Ancient Egypt, the holiday was celebrated when the Nile flooded, usually near the end of September. This flooding made it possible to grow crops in the desert, and the people celebrated by taking statues of the god Amon, his wife and son, up the Nile by boat. Singing, dancing, and feasting was done for a month, then the statues were returned to the temple.
Babylonia’s New Year was in the Spring. During the festival, the king was stripped of his clothes and sent away, and for a few days there was a relaxation of laws. Then the king returned in grand procession, dressed in fine robes. Everyone returned to work and behaved properly. Thus the New Year gave people a new start to their lives.
The Roman New Year festival was called the Calends, and people decorated their homes and gave each other gifts. It was Emperor Julius Caesar who began the calendar system in which the first month is named for the two-faced god Janus.
The Celtic New Year festival took place at the end of October, at summer’s end. The Celts gathered mistletoe to keep ghosts at bay, for this was the time when the dead were thought to return to haunt the living.
The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is a holy time when people consider things they have done wrong in the past and promise to do better in the future. Special services are held in synagogues and the Shofar is blown.
The Feast of Trumpets was the first of the fall festivals, marking the New Year according to the civil calendar (the religious year began in the spring).
The Muslim Calendar is based on the movements of the moon, so the date of New Year is eleven days earlier each year. In some Islamic nations, people put grains of wheat or barley in a little dish to grow. By New Year’s the grains have produced shoots, reminding the people of a new year of life.
Hindus do not all celebrate New Year in the same way or at the same time. The people of West Bengal wear flowers of pink, red, purple, or white. In Kerala, mothers put food, flowers, and little gifts on a special tray to surprise their children. In central India, orange flags are flown from buildings. In Gujarat in western India, small oil lamps are lit along the roofs of buildings.
In Vietnam, the New Year is called Tet Nguyen Dan, or Tet for short. It begins between January 21 and February 19, the exact date changing from year to year. The Vietnamese believe there is a god in every home who travels to heaven (traditionally on a carp) to report how good or bad each family member has been in the past year. Live carp are often purchased and set free in a river.
In Shinto families in Japan, a rope of straw is often placed across the front of houses to keep out evil spirits and bring happiness during the coming year.
The Chinese New Year is celebrated some time between January 17 and February 19, at the time of the new moon, and is call Yuan Tan. It is a time of parades and street processions involving large costumes and thousands of lanterns which light the way for the New Year. Firecrackers are used to frighten the spirits away.