New Year Celebrations

This article was originally published on December 27, 2020.

Based on, the earliest recorded festivities in honor of the new year date back some four thousand years to ancient Babylon. Unlike us, for the Babylonians, the vernal equinox marked the start of the new year. The vernal equinox is the day in March, where there is an equal amount of light and darkness. They would celebrate the occasion with an eleven-day religious festival called Akit.

Similar to ancient Babylon, other civilizations would create their calendars with different days at the start of the new year. A widely known example is Chinese New Year, a fifteen-day festival that signifies the beginning of the spring harvest season. On the other hand, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a two-day celebration during the seventh month of the Jewish lunisolar calendar. Seollal, the Korean New Year, is a three-day festival. Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is a 3,000-year-old celebration that marks the beginning of Spring. The Islamic New Year falls on the first day of the Islamic lunar calendar, Muharram. Songkran, the Buddhist New Year, is a three-day water fight, where splashing water on each other is fun (for some) and washes the bad luck from the previous year off. Vaisakhi, the Sikh and Punjabi New Year, is observed on April 13 or April 14. Ugadi, the Telugu and Kannada New Year, is celebrated according to a lunar-based calendar. Gudi Padwa (in Maharashtra) and Cheti Chand (in Sindhi-speaking Indian communities) also fall on this day and mark the new year. Vishu, the Kerala New Year, is celebrated annually on April 14 similar to Puthandu, the Tamil New Year. Even Diwali marks the start of the new year for Marwari and Gujarati communities. These are only a few holidays that honor the beginning of the new year on a different day.

The early Roman calendar consisted of ten months and 304 days, with each year beginning at the vernal equinox. This particular calendar was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the 8th century B.C. Over the centuries, the Roman calendar fell out of sync with the Sun, and in 46 B.C., the emperor Julius Ceasar decided to solve the problem by introducing the Julian calendar. As part of creating a new calendar, he instituted January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honor the month’s namesake: Janus, the Roman god of beginnings. In medieval Europe, Christian leaders replaced January 1 as the first day of the year with days such as December 25 and March 25. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII would reestablish January 1 as New Year’s Day in the Gregorian calendar that is commonly used today.

The beginning of the new year is celebrated in many ways, including eating particular foods, making resolutions for the new year, and watching firework displays. In Spain and several other Spanish-speaking countries, people eat a dozen grapes symbolizing their hopes for the upcoming months. Lentils and pork appear on the dinner table in multiple countries, as they represent financial success and progress. Ring-shaped cakes and pastries are also eaten as they show that the year has come full circle. In Sweden and Norway, rice pudding with an almond hidden inside is served on New Year’s Eve, and it is said that whoever finds the nut can expect 12 months of good fortune. In the United States, one of the most iconic New Year’s traditions is the ball drop in Times Square, NYC. These are just a few of the special traditions people partake in.

2020 has not been the best year with the COVID situation, and we must hope 2021 will be a better year. It is not wise to have large groups of people to celebrate the beginning of the new year, but you can still celebrate the beginning of 2021 by staying safe and wishing friends and families.