New Years Throughout History and Cultures

28 12 2011

The year is about to end, and New Year’s Eve celebrations for 2012 will take place across the country. How do you celebrate the start of the new year? Have you ever thought about how we know when the New Year actually is? This day is marked by our calendar, and that calendar was created by tracking the moon, sun, and earth!

Since the dawn of civilization man has kept track of time by use of the sun, the moon, and the stars. Man noticed that time could be broken up into units of the day (the time taken for the earth to rotate once on its axis), the month (the time taken for the moon to orbit the earth) and the year (the time taken for the earth to orbit the sun).

Ancient civilizations, were able to create calendars by keeping track of the moon and the sun. The ancient Mayas invented a calendar of remarkable accuracy and complexity. At the right is the ancient Mayan Pyramid Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico. The pyramid was used as a calendar! Four stairways, each with 91 steps and a platform at the top, making a total of 365, equivalent to the number of days in a calendar year!

At the end of the year, these ancient civilizations also celebrated the New Year, just like we do, with feasts, dancing and festivities. Today, most New Year festivities take place on December 31, but in other cultures they take place on different dates.

  • The earliest known record of a New Year festival dates from 2000 BC in Mesopotamia. In Babylonia the New Year began with the new moon closest to the spring equinox, usually mid-March.
  • In Assyria it was near the autumnal equinox in September.
  • For the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians the day was celebrated on the autumnal equinox, which now falls on about September 23.
  • For the Greeks it was the winter solstice, which now falls on about December 21 or 22.
  • In early Rome, March 1 began a new year, but after 153 BC the date was January 1.
  • The Jewish New Year, called Rosh Hashana, is sometimes called the “feast of the trumpets.” It starts on the first day of the month of Tishri, which may begin any time from September 6 to October 5. The celebration lasts for 48 hours but ushers in a ten-day period of penitence.
  • In Japan the New Year festivities take place on January 1 to 3. The house entrance is hung with a rope made of rice straw to keep out evil spirits. Decorations of ferns, bitter orange, and lobster promise good fortune, prosperity, and long life.
  • The Chinese New Year is celebrated for one whole month!. The official celebration begins in late January or early February. There are outdoor parades and fireworks to mark the occasion. Check out the cool dragon costume they dance with:

Finally, the American celebration of the New Year marks the end of the Christmas holiday period. Many people go to church on New Year’s Eve, and many attend parties. Now that you know the history of New Years, you can celebrate this holiday with the knowledge of the past.

You can have fun with a costume like the Chinese do, and download this neat New Year’s Mask, look through it so you can see what the coming year has ahead!

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