New Year’s Day festival: its history and significance


New Year’s Day festival, any of the social, cultural, and religious observances worldwide that celebrate the beginning of the new year. Such festivals are among the oldest and the most universally observed.

When is New Year’s Day celebrated?

New Year’s Day is celebrated on the 1st of January every year. It marks the beginning of the year with all pomp and glory.

When was this day first celebrated?

The earliest known record of a New Year festival dates from about 2000 BCE in Mesopotamia, wherein Babylonia the new year (Akitu) began with the new moon after the spring equinox (mid-March). Along with this, in Assyria, the New Year starts with the new moon nearest the autumn equinox (mid-September).
For the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians the year began with the autumn equinox (September 21). And for the early Greeks, it began with the winter solstice (December 21). On the Roman republican calendar, the year began on March 1, but after 153 BCE the official date was January 1, which was continued in the Julian calendar of 46 BCE.

What happened in the early medieval times?

In early medieval times, most of Christian Europe regarded March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, as the beginning of the new year, although New Year’s Day was observed on December 25 in Anglo-Saxon England.
William the Conqueror decreed that the year begin on January 1, but England later joined the rest of Christendom and adopted March 25. The Gregorian calendar, adopted in 1582 by the Roman Catholic Church, was restored on January 1 as New Year’s Day.
After that, most European countries gradually followed suit: Scotland, in 1660; Germany and Denmark, about 1700; England, in 1752; and Russia, in 1918.

What are the various legends regarding New Year’s Day?

Many of the customs of New Year festivals note the passing of time with both regret and anticipation. The baby as a symbol of the new year dates to the ancient Greeks, with an old man representing the year that has passed. The Romans derived the name for the month of January from their god Janus, who had two faces. One face looked backward and the other forward. The practice of making resolutions to rid oneself of bad habits and to adopt better ones also dates to ancient times.
In the West, particularly in English-speaking countries, the nostalgic Scottish ballad “Auld Lang Syne,” is sung. It was revised by the poet Robert Burns. People sing it on New Year’s Eve.

What are the religious observances on this day?

Many people mark the new year with religious observances, as, for example, on Rosh Hashana. Buddhist monks are presented with gifts on the day, and Hindus make oblations to the gods.
In Japan, visits are sometimes made to Shintō shrines of tutelary deities or to Buddhist temples. Chinese make offerings to gods of the hearth and wealth and to ancestors.

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