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The History of New Year’s Resolutions
THE TRADITION OF New Year’s Resolutions dates back to 153 BC. J.-C. Janus, a mythical king of primitive Rome was placed at the head of the calendar.
With two faces, Janus could look back on past events and look to the future. Janus became the ancient symbol of resolutions and many Romans sought forgiveness from their enemies and also exchanged gifts before the beginning of each year.
The New Year hasn’t always started on January 1, and it doesn’t start on that date everywhere today. It starts on this date only for cultures that use a 365-day solar calendar. January 1 became the start of the New Year in 46 BC, when Julius Caesar developed a calendar that would more accurately reflect the seasons than previous calendars.
The Romans named the first month of the year after Janus, the god of beginnings and the guardian of doors and entrances. He has always been depicted with two faces, one on the front of his head and one on his back. So he could look back and forward at the same time. At midnight on December 31, the Romans imagined Janus looking back to the old year and forward to the new.
The Romans started a tradition of exchanging gifts on New Year’s Eve by giving each other branches from sacred trees for good fortune. Later, nuts or printed coins of the god Janus became more common New Year gifts.
In the Middle Ages, Christians replaced New Year’s Day with December 25, the day Jesus was born. Then they changed it to March 25, a holiday called the Annunciation. In the 16th century, Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar and the celebration of the New Year was moved back to January 1.
The Julian and Gregorian calendars are solar calendars. Some cultures, however, have lunar calendars. A year in a lunar calendar is less than 365 days because the months are based on the phases of the moon. The Chinese use a lunar calendar. Their new year begins at the time of the first full moon (over the Far East) after the Sun enters Aquarius, between January 19 and February 21.
Although the date of the New Year is not the same in all cultures, it is always a time of celebration and customs to ensure good luck in the coming year.
ancient new year
The New Year celebration is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon around 4000 years ago. In the years around 2000 BC. AD, the Babylonians celebrated the start of a new year on what is now March 23, although they themselves had no written calendar.
Late March is actually a logical choice for the start of a new year. This is the time of year when spring begins and new crops are planted. January 1, on the other hand, has no astronomical or agricultural significance. It’s purely arbitrary.
The Babylonian New Year celebration lasted eleven days. Each day had its own particular mode of celebration, but it’s safe to say that modern New Year’s festivities pale in comparison.
The Romans continued to observe the New Year on March 25, but their calendar was continually altered by various emperors, so the calendar soon became out of sync with the sun.
In order to regulate the calendar, the Roman senate, in 153 BC. J.-C., declared on January 1 the beginning of the new year. But the forgery continued until Julius Caesar, in 46 BC. J.-C., establish what became the Julian calendar. He again established January 1 as the New Year. But to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for 445 days.
Global Good Luck Traditions
With the New Year upon us, here’s a look at some of the good luck rituals from around the world. They are believed to bring good fortune and prosperity in the coming year.
AUSTRIA – The suckling pig is the symbol of good luck for the new year. It is served on a table decorated with small edible pigs. The dessert often consists of a spearmint ice cream in the shape of a four-leaf clover.
ENGLAND – The Brits are placing their fortunes for the coming year in the hands of their first guest. They believe that the first visitor each year should be male and bring gifts. The traditional gifts are coal for the fire, bread for the table and a drink for the master. To be lucky, the guest must enter through the front door and exit through the back. Empty-handed or unwanted guests are not allowed to enter first.
WALES – At the first midnight toll, the back door is opened and then closed to release the old year and lock out all his bad luck. Then at the twelfth clock, the front door opens and the new year is welcomed with all its luck.
HAITI – In Haiti, New Year’s Day is a sign of the coming year. Haitians wear new clothes and exchange gifts in the hope that it bodes well for the new year.
SICILY – An old Sicilian tradition says luck will come to those who eat lasagna on New Year’s Day, but woe if you eat macaroni, because any other noodle will bring bad luck.
SPAIN – In Spain, when the clock strikes midnight, Spaniards eat 12 grapes, one at each toll, for good luck for the next 12 months.
PERU – The Peruvian New Year’s custom is a twist on the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes at the start of the year. But in Peru, a 13th grape must be eaten to ensure good luck.
GREECE – A special New Year’s bread is baked with a coin buried in the dough. The first installment is for the child Jesus, the second for the father of the family and the third installment is for the house. If the third installment holds the coin, spring will arrive early that year.
JAPAN – The Japanese decorate their homes in homage to lucky gods. One tradition, kadomatsu, consists of a pine branch symbolizing longevity, a bamboo stalk symbolizing prosperity, and a plum blossom showing nobility.
CHINA – For the Chinese New Year, every front door is adorned with a fresh coat of red paint, with red being a symbol of good luck and happiness. Although the whole family is planning a New Year’s party, all the knives are put away for 24 hours to prevent anyone from cutting themselves, which is supposed to cut the family’s luck for the next year.
UNITED STATES – The kiss shared at the stroke of midnight in the United States is derived from the masquerade balls that have been common throughout history. As tradition dictates, the masks symbolize the evil spirits of the old year, and the kiss is the purification of the new year.
NORWAY – Norwegians cook rice pudding at New Years and hide a whole almond in it. The guaranteed wealth goes to the person whose portion holds the lucky almond.
Chinese New Year
Except for a very small number of people who can tell when the Chinese New Year should be, the majority of Chinese people today have to rely on a typical Chinese calendar to tell. Therefore, you cannot talk about Chinese New Year without mentioning the Chinese calendar first.
A Chinese calendar includes both the Gregorian system and the lunar-solar system, the latter dividing a year into twelve months, each of which is in turn also divided into thirty-nine and a half days. The well-coordinated dual system calendar reflects Chinese ingenuity.
There is also a system that marks the years of a twelve-year cycle, naming each of them after an animal such as the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, the sheep, the monkey, the rooster, the dog and the boar. It is believed that people born in a given year share some of the personalities of this particular animal.
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