The idea of a new start, better luck after a given turning point, re-birth has always appealed and the earliest observation of a New Year event can be traced back to the Babylonians, 4000 years ago, who celebrated the event for 11 days to mark the first new moon at the end of the winter equinox.
The celebration of the New Year on January 1st is a relatively new phenomenon. The start of the New year is determined by the different calendars and customs in various parts of the world. The early Roman calendar only had 10 month and they designated the 1st of March as the start of the New Year. This is still reflected in some of the names of the month, for instance September represents the 7th month (Septem in Latin), October the 8th month, November is the 9th and December the 10th month.
In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar that was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman calendar, which was a lunar system that had become wildly inaccurate over the years. The Julian calendar decreed that the New Year would occur with January 1, and within the Roman world, January 1 became the consistently observed start of the New Year.
In medieval Europe, however, the celebrations accompanying the New Year were considered pagan and unchristian like, and in 567 the Council of Tours abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year, creating confusion as to what was to be celebrated when. At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on Dec. 25, the birth of Jesus; March 1; March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation; and Easter.
Until 1582, when the Gregorian calendar reform restored January 1 as new year's day. Although most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately, it was only gradually adopted among Protestant countries. The British, for example, did not adopt the reformed calendar until 1752. Until then, the British Empireand their American coloniesstill celebrated the New Year in March.
It was the early Babylonians that started the custom of making New Years resolutions as far as 4000 years ago, resolving to return borrowed farm equipment to the rightful owners. A big difference from a promise to lose weight, give up smoking although not dissimilar to promising to return that borrowed book or CD or tools borrowed from neighbours family and friends.
Should you fail to keep the promise made for New Years resolution you can always get a second chance when joining in the start of the Chinese New Year, which starts with the New Moon on the first day of the New Year and ends on the full moon 15 days later, celebrating at night with children carrying lanterns in a parade.
The Chinese calendar is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements. The lunar cycle is about 29.5 days. In order to "catch up" with the solar calendar the Chinese insert an extra month once every few years (seven years out of a 19-year cycle). This is the same as adding an extra day on leap year. This is why the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year and next New Year falls on February 7th.
The origin of the Chinese New Year is itself centuries old, too old to actually be traced.
Preparations tend to begin a month from the date of the Chinese New Year, when people start buying presents, decoration materials, food and clothing. A huge clean-up gets underway days before the New Year, when Chinese houses are cleaned from top to bottom, to sweep away any traces of bad luck, and doors and windowpanes are given a new coat of paint, usually red. The doors and windows are then decorated with paper cuts and couplets with themes such as happiness, wealth and longevity printed on them.
The eve of the New Year is perhaps the most exciting part of the event, as anticipation creeps in. Here, traditions and rituals are very carefully observed in everything from food to clothing. Dinner is usually a feast of seafood and dumplings, signifying different good wishes. Delicacies include prawns, for liveliness and happiness, dried oysters (or ho xi), for all things good, raw fish salad (or yu sheng) to bring good luck and prosperity, Fai-hai (Angel Hair), an edible hair-like seaweed to bring prosperity, and dumplings boiled in water (Jiaozi) signifying a long-lost good wish for a family. It's usual to wear something red as this colour is meant to ward off evil spirits - but black and white are out, as these are associated with mourning. The underlying message is one of peace and happiness for family members and friends.
We wish everyone a Happy New Year and lots of good things to look forward to in 2008.
Besides getting sloppy drunk and kissing everybody in the room at the stroke of midnight, celebrants throughout the ages have observed numerous New Year's customs and superstitions. Because it is the first day of the New Year, we have drawn a connection between what we do on that day and our fate throughout the rest of the year.
Here are some of the ways we attempt to guarantee a good outcome through our acts on that portentous first day in various parts of the world: