Guwahati, Friday, January 01, 2010
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Celebrating New Year
— Dr Dhrubajyoti Das
New year’s Day is the first day of the calendar year. People in almost every country celebrate this day with fireworks, parade, dances and great merrymaking. According to Charles Lamb, “New Years Day is everyman’s Birthday”.

During the Middle Ages, most of the European countries used 25th March called “Annunciation Day”, to start the new year. By 16th century, a revised calendar called Gregorian calendar restored 1st January as New Year’s Day. Most of the calendars are based on the movement of the moon, position of the sun. All over the world there are special beliefs about the New Year.

In ancient Egypt, New Year was celebrated when the river Nile was flooded. It was believed that without flood people would not be able to grow crops in the desert areas. The statues of God Amon and his wife and son were taken up the Nile by boat. Singing, dancing and feasting were done for a month and then the statues were taken back to the temples.

The Romans celebrated New Year on the 1st of March. But in 46 B.C. Julius Caesar began a new calendar from the first day of January. January is named after the Roman God Janus. The Roman people decorated their homes and gave gifts to each other. Slaves and their masters drank together for a few days.

Most Hindus do not celebrate New Year in the same way or at the same time. The people of Assam and West Bengal celebrate New year from the middle of April called Bohag or Boisakh. Assamese people celebrate with Bihu dances, beating drums and exchange best wishes with gifts to each other.

The people of West Bengal and some parts of north India wear various flowers, women like to wear yellow coloured sari. In central India, orange flags are flown from buildings on that day. In Gujarat, New Year is celebrated at the end of October at same time, with the festival of Diwali. In Kerala people celebrate new Year called Pongal from the middle of April. Mothers put food, flowers and gifts on a special tray. On New year’s morning the children have to keep their eyes closed until they have been lead to the tray.

The Muslim calendar is based on the movement of the moon, so the date of New year is eleven days earlier each year. The people of Iran celebrate New Year on 21st March. Few weeks before this date, they put grains of wheat in a little dish to grow. When the grains produce shoots the people are reminded of spring and a new year of life.

The Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah. People think of the things they have done wrong in the past, and they promise to do better in future. Children are given new clothes and breads are eaten to remind the people of harvest time.

In Vietnam, New Year’s day is called yet Nguyen Dan. It begins between 21st January and 19th February. They believe that there is a God in every home and God travels to heaven on New year’s day. They also believe that God travels on the back of carpfish. So they buy a carpfish and let it go free in a river or pond. In Japan, New Year is celebrated on 1st January. To keep out evil spirits, they hang a rope of straw across the front of their houses. This stands for happiness and good luck. They begin to laugh on that day and this is supposed to bring them good fortune. The Chinese New Year is celebrated between 17th January and 18th February with street processions and thousands of lanterns to light the way for the New Year. They believe that firecrackers will fighten the evil spirits away. Sometimes they close their doors and windows with paper to keep the spirits out. The people of the West believed that there was a Pope called Sanit Sylevester in 314 A.D. and that he captured a terrible sea monster. But in 1000 A.D. people thought that this sea monster would destroy the world. But since it didn’t happen, the people were delighted. Since then in few parts of Austria and Switzerland, this story is still remembered on the New Year. People dressed up in fantastic dresses and customes.

In Greence, New Year is called the Festival of Saint Basil. Saint Basil was famous for his kindness. Children leave their shoes by the fire on New year’s day with the hope that Sanit Basil will come and fill the shoes with gifts. On New year’s eve, people of Great Britain “Let in the new year” by joining hands to form a circle and singing the song Auld Lang Syne (long ago). The people of Scotland called this festival Hogmanay. In some villages barrels of coalter are set alight and rolled through the streets. Thus old year is burnt up and new year is allowed to enter. Large processions with decorated float and bands and football matches are also played almost all over the United States of America on New Year’s day. William Godwin (1756-1836) once said, “For the bells were ringing the Old Year out, and the New Year in”.