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Which Culture Celebrated the First New Year

December 27, 2021


Throughout antiquity, cultures around the globe developed knowledge-based calendars that pinned the New Year to an astronomical or agricultural event. Some 4,000 years ago, the Babylonians believed the New Year began on the first new moon following the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness (vernal equinox). In order for New Year’s to be celebrated on the first day of January, the world would have to wait for Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, to add the months of January and February to early Roman republican calendar that was created by Romulus. Nonetheless, it was the Babylonians who reportedly made promises to the gods in the form of New Year’s Resolutions in hopes of earning good favor and rewards during the coming year.

Different cultures still celebrate New Year’s Day at different times of year due to following calendars of differing design. Some calendars are based on lunar cycle, some on the solar cycle. In fact, the Chinese Lunar New Year is based on a lunisolar calendar. In relation to the Gregorian calendar, the cycle variances between calendars cause some New Year’s to fall on the same day of the year while others occur over a range of days during a same time of year. In contrast, the Babylonian tradition honored the twelve days of the new year, and whether it was passed down directly from the Babylonians or not, many cultures today see the New Year as a unique time to make changes to their lives, to say goodbye to unwanted habits, and to set new goals in honor of the new beginning.

Globally…. a Cultural or Religious Tradition?

In pre-Christian times, the first day of the new year was a cultural event and celebration where populations gave thanks for agricultural blessings usually marked by a change of seasons. During Roman times, the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (often called the eighth day of Christmas) was celebrated on January 1, which was in accordance with Jewish tradition and the occasion on which the male child was formally given his name.

Since the early 1900s, New Year’s Eve has become the celebratory occasion where night of December 31st and the impending arrival of midnight and the new year has become a public party and celebration that often involves fireworks shows. In the United States, the most famous New Year’s tradition since 1907 is the dropping of the Giant Ball in New York City’s Times Square.

While most cultures celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1, there are numerous cultural celebrations that occur at differing times each year, such as:

  • Lunar New Year (Chinese) – During the 20th century, the Chinese celebrate the Gregorian New Year as a public holiday, but the Qingming is the festival for the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated on the new moon in late January or early February. Some Asian cultures refer to it as Spring Festival because it marks the end of the most frigid part of winter based both on moon phase and the time of the solar year.
  • Hindu New Year (Diwali) – The festival of lights is enjoyed by millions of Sikhs, Hindus, and Jains around the world. Diwali celebrations last for five days usually in mid-October to mid-November depending upon the Hindu lunar calendar. Festive fireworks displays mark the occasion, and families share sweets and gifts.
  • Bengali New Year (Pahela Baishakh) – Baishakh is the first month of the Bengali calendar and Pahela Baishakh begins on the first day. Celebrated at the beginning of the harvest season, the Bengalis enjoy feasts with culturally rich performances, while the Sikhs celebrate with song and days as well as recitals from sacred religious books.
  • Persian New Year (Nowruz) – For thirteen days, approximately 75 million people in Iran celebrate the rebirth of nature for Nowruz, which means new day, at the start of spring. About 30 million Afghanistan also celebrate the Persian New Year, which is one of the world’s oldest celebrations having began 4,000 years ago. About three weeks before the vernal equinox, a deep cleaning of homes make way for a new start celebrated with food, gifts, dance, music, and kite flying.
  • Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) – The Head of the Year called Rosh Hashanah is considered to be a time of rejoicing and introspection The Jewish New Year is a religious celebration where people eat popular foods that hold special meanings, such as dates, leeks, beets, pomegranates, and honey-covered apples followed by prayer. People will walk to a body of water and shake out their pockets to symbolize the casting away of sins.
  • Hmong New Year – Traditionally celebrated in Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand, the annual celebration honors ancestors during this holiday that is well-rooted in agricultural history and religious traditions. Through generations of immigration, the Hmong New Year has continued as an important cultural holiday for Hmong communities worldwide, including parts of the United States.

When it comes to ringing in the traditional new year celebrated on the eve of December 31 and the initial tick of the clock on January 1, Oceania is the first place on earth to celebrate the New Year. Beginning at 10 am Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), the small Pacific Island nations of Tonga, Samoa, and Kiribati ring in the first day of the new year. The uninhabited Howland and Baker Islands, near the western United States, are the last places on earth to welcome the New Year at 12 pm GMT.

From the entire staff at ProLingo, we wish you a Happy New Year and hope 2022 will bring you a fresh start filled with prosperity. And... don't forget that virtual meetings and other multilingual online events remove the need for you to rent expensive audio equipment and interpretation booths. In addition, your attendees will save time and money due to less travel and no overnight stays. Contact ProLingo at 800-287-9755 to discuss your specific needs for remote interpretation and translation services.

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