Friday, December 29, 2006

New Year

How many times do we celebrate New Year? If you say once, on January 1, then you'd be a little off. In the Philippines, we actually celebrate it twice, the second time being the Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls anywhere between January 21 and February 21.

New Year is usually a time for resolutions, a time for casting out the old and ringing in the new. How convenient, then, that we should have two celebrations: if the plans didn't quite stick on January 1, then we still have a second chance a month after.

Granted, the Chinese New Year isn't as big a celebration as January 1 -- it isn't even a legal holiday -- but it's still a recognition of the Chinese culture that's closely intertwined with Filipino culture. Besides, when have we really needed a big reason for celebration?

All cultures with some rudimentary knowledge of astronomy recognize that there are roughly 365 days in a year. But if it's a cycle, how do you know when it stops and starts again? In reality, any day could have been chosen as New Year's Day. Which day you celebrate it on is a matter of culture and religion.

Take January 1, for example. It's simply the first day of the calendar decreed by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. This Gregorian calendar, that is, the calendar as we know it, was in turn adapted from the Julian calendar, which also had January 1 as the first day of the the year.

So why January 1? In a way, that, too, was an almost arbitrary decision. This was the result of arrangement of the months of the medieval calendar from January to December. This was adapted in various European countries at various times between 1522 and 1579.

The Chinese New Year, on the other hand, occurs every year on the new moon of the first lunar month, around the beginning of spring. Hence, the exact date varies from year to year. Chinese New Year celebrations last fifteen days, ending with the Lantern Festival.

But what about the rest of the world? A quick look at the Wikipedia reveals some interesting facts:

* The Iranian New Year, called Norouz, is the day containing the exact moment of the vernal equinox, commencing the start of the spring season. This falls on the 20 or 21 March.

* Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and West Bengal celebrate their new year around April 13 to 15.

* The Islamic New Year occurs on the first day of Muharram. Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar, which falls anywhere from January to February. It is one of the four sanctified months of the year. 2008 will see two Muslim New Years.

* The Punjabi new year Vaisakhi is celebrated on 13 April and celebrates the harvest. Hola Mohalla, New Year's Day in the Sikh Nanakshahi calendar is on March 14.

* Some neo-pagans celebrate Samhain (a festival of the ancient Celts, held around November 1) as a new year's day representing the new cycle of the Wheel of the Year.

Finally, April 1 was previously the New Year in many European countries in pre-Gregorian times. When the new calendar, starting on January 1, replaced it, people who continued to celebrate the traditional New Year were mocked and teased, the subject of various humorous harassment. Hence, we have the term April Fools.

Happy New Year!