When we think about New Year’s Eve, things like fireworks, champagne, and late night celebrations usually spring to mind. It’s a time when we reflect, plan new things, and search out areas of improvement in our lives. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are usually a time of great optimism. It feels like everybody gets a fresh start.
In fact, the feeling of rebirth and renewal is practically universal across the globe. Even though people have different rituals and beliefs about the new year, they all usually involve the same ideas of reflection and projection. Not every New Year celebration happens on the same date, some New Year’s holidays are deeply tied to religion, and some celebrations last for weeks. If you’ve ever wondered how most of the world celebrates the flipping calendar, here’s a quick primer.
Western New Year
No, not like Jesse James, the Western New Year is what we celebrate in America. Observed every year on January 1st, this holiday comes from something called the Gregorian Calendar. The Catholic church--specifically Pope Gregory XIII--introduced the Gregorian Calendar as a way to line up the equinoxes with the traditional celebration of Easter. Even though this calendar has some idiosyncrasies like Leap Years and oddly numbered months, its predictability and consistency with the seasons made it a winner in practically every Catholic and Protestant country.
In conjunction with December turning into January, the Western New Year typically involves making a New Year’s Resolution, where you pretend to make some lasting change in your life that inevitably wavers, because apparently giving up ice cream is next to impossible. Some people even eat special lunches that are meant to be symbolic of things like monetary improvement and luck.
Rosh Hashanah (Judaism)
While many Jews celebrate the typical Western New Year with the rest of their colleagues and compatriots, the Jewish faith actually has its own new year celebration that dates back over 4,000 years. Rosh Hashanah usually falls in the Autumnal months, which symbolizes when Adam and Eve were said to have been created. Celebrated in conjunction with Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday of fasting and atonement, Rosh Hashanah is an intense celebration that usually lasts about a week. It’s also one of the world’s oldest continuous rituals, since it dates back all the way to Leviticus.
Arabic New Year
Muslims all over the world celebrate the Islamic New Year, which reflects the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Kicking off on 622 CE, the Islamic New Year isn’t based on the Western Calendar, but rather a lunar calendar. That means that the months are tabulated based on the stages of the moon, so the dates aren’t consistent from a Western Perspective. The Arabic New Year is a deeply religious holiday that involves fasting for a month in what’s called Ramadan. This month-long fast includes deep reflection, and in some cases, an entire pilgrimage.
Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year might be the granddaddy of them all. This massive celebration takes place over about two weeks, involves tons of food, lots of partying, and general merriment across the entire Asian continent. Celebrated in China, the Koreas, Japan, and other countries, this holiday is meant to honor ancestors and bring families together. The Chinese Calendar is lunisolar, which is way too complicated to explain in a few words. The party is so big, that it’s actually known as the largest mass migration of people in the world. Fireworks were invented in China, and they probably made them specifically to usher in this giant, nation-wide bash.