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Lesson 15

New Year's Day - History, Traditions, and Customs

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New Year's is one of the oldest celebrated holidays. It was first observed 4000 years ago in ancient Babylon, coinciding with the spring equinox (late March) and planting new crops. The celebration lasted for 11 days. During the festival, the king was stripped of his clothes and sent away so everyone could do what they wanted for a few days. At the end of the holiday, the king returned in a grand procession, dressed in fine robes and everyone went back to work.

Romans also celebrated New Year's during March. It was Julius Caesar who changed the Roman New Year's Day to January 1 in 46 BC. Fittingly, January was named after the Roman god, Janus (God of all beginnings and gate keeper of heaven and earth). Janus was always depicted with two faces: One looking back to the old year (past) and one looking ahead to the new year (future).

During the Middle Ages, the Church remained opposed to celebrating New Years. Up unto 1582, Christian Europe celebrated New Years Day on March 25 to herald new birth and a new season. Pope Gregory XIII instituted additional calendar reforms bringing us the calendaring system of the day. The Gregorian calendar was adopted by Catholic countries immediately while the reformists, suspect of any papal policy, only adapted it after some time. Today most countries around the world have adopted this calendaring system.

From primitive man to today, New Year's Day has been recognized as a day in which rites were done to abolished the past so there could be a rejuvenation for the new year. Rituals included purgation, purification, exorcisms, extinguishing and rekindling fires, masked processions (masks representing the dead), and other similar activities. Often exorcisms and purgations were performed with much noise as if to scare away the evil spirits.

Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that reason, it has become common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends. Parties often last into the middle of the night after the ringing in of a new year. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year's Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the rest of the year. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man.

Other traditions of the season include the making of New Year's resolutions. That tradition also dates back to the early Babylonians. The early Babylonian's most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. The resolutions today are simply a secular version of the religious vows made in the past toward spiritual perfection. Popular modern resolutions might include the promise to lose weight or quit smoking. They are often made with good intentions and broken with a sense of humor and renewed annually.

Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes the end of the one year with the seamless beginning of the next, completing a year's cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year's Day will bring good fortune. Many parts of the country celebrate the New Year by consuming black-eyed peas. Cabbage is another "good luck" vegetable that is consumed on New Year's Day by many.

Although many countries celebrate New Year's on the same day, each country has different traditions. In Southeast Asia they release birds and turtles for good luck in the coming year. In Japan, people hang a rope of straw in front of their houses signifying happiness and good luck. They believe it keeps the evil spirits away. Japanese people begin to laugh the moment the New Year begins, so they will have good luck the whole year. In British Columbia, Canada, there is a traditional polar bear swim, where people put on their bathing suits and and plunge into the icy cold water.

A New Year party on the New Year's Eve is the most common type of celebration in England. When at midnight the chimes of Big Ben are broadcast, they drink a toast to the New Year. The most famous celebration takes place in Trafalgar Square in London, where big crowds gather to welcome the New Year. If the family prefer to bring in the New Year at home there is such a custom: the members of the household sat themselves round the hearth, and when the hands of the clock approach the hour, the head of the family rises, goes to the front door, opens it wide, and holds it thus until the last stroke of midnight has died away. Having let the Old Year out and the New Year in, he shuts the door quietly and returns to the family circle.

In Scotland they celebrate Hogmanay. In some villages, they burn barrels of tar and roll them through the streets, showing that the old year is burned up and the new one can begin.

In the United States, the legal holiday is January 1, but Americans begin celebrating on December 31. Sometimes people have masquerade balls, where guests dress up in costumes and cover their faces with masks. According to an old tradition, guests unmask at midnight. At New Year's Eve parties across the United States on December 31, many guests watch television as part of the festivities. Most of the television channels show Times Square in the heart of New York City. At one minute before midnight, a lighted ball drops slowly from the top to the bottom of a pole on one of the buildings. People count down at the same time as the ball drops. When it reaches the bottom, the new year sign is lighted. People hug and kiss, and wish each other "Happy New Year!"

The song, "Auld Lang Syne," is traditionally sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the new year. The custom of singing this song on New Years Eve goes back to the British Isles from the 18th century when guests ended a party standing in a circle and singing this song. The custom first was rooted in Scotland, because the lyrics were written in 1788 by Robert Burns, their favorite folk poet of the time. But most musicologists feel that Auld Lang Syne came from a traditional Scottish folk melody. The entire song's message merely means to just forget about the past and look ahead to the new year with hope.

  1. to celebrate - празнувам
  2. to coincide - съвпадам (по време, място)
  3. spring equinox - пролетно равноденствие
  4. crop - посев
  5. to plant - садя, посаждам
  6. to last - трая, продължавам
  7. to strip - събличам (се)
  8. fittingly - подобаващо, съответно
  9. to depict - рисувам, изобразявам
  10. to oppose - противопоставям (се) на; опълчвам (се) против, възпротивявам се на/срещу;
  11. to herald - известявам, възвестявям
  12. to institute - учредявам; въвеждам
  13. to adopt - осиновявам; приемам, възприемам
  14 rite - ритуал, обред
  15. to abolish - премахвам, унищожавам
  16. rejuvenation - подновяване
  17. purgation - пречистване
  18. purification - очистване, пречистване
  19. exorcism - прогонване (на зли сили)
  20. to extinguish - гася, загасявам
  21. to rekindle - запалвам (се), пламвам отново
  22. resolution - решение (обещание); резолюция
  23. secular - светски, не църковен
  24. vow - тържествено обещание, обет, клетва
  25. to renew - подновявам, започвам пак/отново; повтарям
  26. black-eyed pea = cowpea - плод на декоративен грах
  27. cabbage - зелка, зеле
  28. donut=doughnut - поничка
  29. to release - пускам, освобождавам
  30. rope - въже
  31. straw - слама; сламка
  32. to signify - изразявам; означавам, знача
  33. to plunge - гмурвам се; потапям (се) в (into)
  34. chime - удар, звън на камбана
  35. Big Ben - (камбаната на) часовниковата кула на сградата на Английския парламент
  36. to broadcast - разпръсквам/разпращам по всички посоки
  37. toast - наздравица, тост
  38. household - семейство, домакинство
  39. hearth - камина
  40. to die away - заглъхвам, утихвам
  41. square - площад
  42. tar - катран, смола
  43. festivities (pl) - празненство, веселие
  44. heart - сърце (и прен.)
  45. to drop - спускам се, падам
  46. to count down - броя в обратен ред (напр. от 10 до 0, особ. при изстрелване на ракета и пр.)
  47. Auld Lang Syne - (old long ago; days of long ago; good old days) добрите стари дни

 Adapt, Adopt, or Adept

How is New Year celebrated worldwide

Not all people celebrate New Year at the same time, or in the same way. This is because people in different parts of the world use different calendars. Some calendars are based on the movement of the moon and others are based on the position of the sun. Most of the world celebrates New Year on 1st January, though some countries celebrate New Year at different dates.

The Chinese New Year is celebrated some time between January 21 and February 20, at the time of the new moon, and it is called 'Yuan Tan'. The New Year is ushered in with the lighting of firecrackers at midnight on the eve of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. The Chinese shop for Oranges (they believe it brings good luck), clean their homes and settle all debts. On the eve of the New Year relatives are remembered and re-union dinners organized. Young members of families visit relatives and receive lucky money (ang paus) from relatives. Various processions and parades are organized with stilt walkers, lion and dragon dancers, acrobats, and decorated floats taking to the streets amidst the clashing of cymbals and beating of gongs and drums.

In Japan, the New Year (Shogatsu) celebrations are from January 1 to January 3 and most Japanese do not work during these days. In Japan, years are traditionally seen as completely separate from each other, and the New Year as a fresh start. This means that in December all the duties should be completed. Bonenkai parties ("year forgetting parties") are held in order to forget the worries and troubles of the old year. The entrances of homes and cars are adorned with special decorations made of pine, bamboo and plum tree.

The Thai New Year festival is called Songkran and lasts for three days from 13 to 15 April according the gregorian calendar. The customs are many such as people throw water over one another, under the guise of that it will bring good rains in the coming year and all the Buddha statues or images are washed. They visit the monastery to pray and offer gifts of rice, fruit, sweets and other foods for the monks. Another custom to bring good luck, was to release birds from their cages or fish from their bowls. They carry a fish bowl to the river to release their fish all at the same time as one another. They might also play the game known as Saba which is a game rather like skittles.

Celebration of the Hindu New Year varies based on geographic location. Most Hindus live in India, but many have different traditions. For example, the Hindus of Gujarat, in western India, celebrate the New Year at the end of October, at the same time as the Indian festival of Diwali. For the Diwali celebration, small oil lights are lit all along the rooftops. In northern India, people wear flowers to celebrate the New Year, commonly in pink, red, purple, or white hues. Hindus in central India display orange flags, flying them from the top of buildings. In southern India, mothers put food, flowers, and small gifts on a special tray. On New Year's morning, children must keep their eyes shut until they have been led to the tray.

The Bahai people have their own calendar consisting of nineteen months of ninetneen days plus a couple of extra days between the eighteenth and nineteenth months. They have however adopted the Iranian custom of beginning the New Year in the spring equinox. The day begins at sunset rather than midnight, and the New Year celebrations are held during the evening of March 20th.

The Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah, and falls in the seventh month, or Tishri, of the Jewish calendar (September - October). Rosh Hashanah is a holy time when people reflect on the things they have done wrong in the past, so they can improve in the future. Celebration of the New Year begins at sunset the day before, and religious services are held at synagogues in observation. An instrument called a Shofar, made from a ram's horn, is traditionally played and children are given new clothes to celebrate the New Year. In addition, New Year loaves are baked and fruit is eaten to remind people of harvest time.

The Muslim New Year falls eleven days earlier than the previous year because the Muslim calendar is based on the movements of the moon. In Iran, people celebrate the New Year in March. As the New Year approaches, Muslims set grains of wheat or barley in small dishes and sprinkle them with water. When the New Year arrives, the growth of the sprouted grains reminds people of spring and a new year of life.


The garbage collector is NOT stealing our stuff.

I do not need to suddenly stand straight up when I'm lying under the coffee table.

I will not roll my toys behind the fridge. I must shake the rainwater out of my fur BEFORE entering the house.

I will not eat the cats' food, before or after they eat it.

I will stop trying to find the few remaining pieces of clean carpet in the house when I am about to throw up.

I will not throw up in the car.

I will not roll on dead seagulls, fish, crabs, etc.

I will not eat any more socks and then redeposit them in the backyard after processing.

When in the car, I will not insist on having the window rolled down when it's raining outside.

I will not bark each time I hear one on TV.

I will not steal my Mom's underwear and dance all over the back yard with it.

I will not bite the officer's hand when he reaches in for Mom's driver's license and car registration.

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