Dec
29

Happy New Year!

New Year

The celebration of the new year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. In the years around 2000 BC, the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon (actually the first visible cresent) after the Vernal Equinox (first day of spring).

Many ancient peoples started the year at harvest time. The Babylonian New Year celebration lasted for eleven days. Each day had its own particular mode of celebration, but it is safe to say that modern New Year’s Eve festivities pale in comparison.

New Year gifts

In early times, the ancient Romans gave each other New Year’s gifts of branches from sacred trees. In later years, they gave gold-covered nuts or coins imprinted with pictures of Janus, the god of gates, doors, and beginnings. January was named after Janus, who had two faces—one looking forward and the other looking backward. The Romans also brought gifts to the emperor. The emperors eventually began to demand such gifts. But the Christian church outlawed this custom and certain other pagan New Year’s practices in A.D. 567.

Snowman

The Romans continued to observe the new year in late March, but their calendar was continually tampered with by various emperors so that the calendar soon became out of synchronization with the sun. In order to set the calendar right, the Roman senate, in 153 BC, declared January 1 to be the beginning of the new year. But tampering continued until Julius Caesar, in 46 BC, established what has come to be known as the Julian Calendar. It again established January 1 as the new year. But in order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for 445 days.

During the Middle Ages, the Church remained opposed to celebrating New Year and most European countries used March 25, a Christian holiday called Annunciation Day, to start the year. By 1600, many Western nations had adopted a revised calendar called the Gregorian calendar. This calendar, the one used today, restored January 1 as New Year’s Day. The United Kingdom and its colonies in America adopted it in 1752. New Year’s Day has been celebrated as a holiday by Western nations for only about the past 400 years. Today people in almost every country celebrate this day as a holiday.

Sydney New Years Eve Fireworks

Sydney New Years Eve Fireworks

Modern customs on New Year’s Day include visiting friends and relatives; giving gifts; attending religious services; and making noise with bells, guns, horns, and other devices. Children in Belgium write their parents New Year’s messages on decorated paper. The children read the messages to their families on New Year’s Day.

In Greece, New Year’s day is also the Festival of St. Basil, one of the founders of the Greek Orthodox Church. One of the traditional foods served is Vassilopitta, or St Basil’s cake. A silver or gold coin is baked inside the cake. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of cake will be especially lucky during the coming year.

Mexicans down a grape with each of the twelve chimes of the bell during the New Year countdown, while making a wish with each one. On New Year’s Eve, those who want to find love in the new year wear red underwear and yellow if they want money. Other traditions include sweeping the dirt out, taking luggage outside as a symbol of future trips, hanging sheep dolls (mainly made out of wool) in the doorknob for prosperity, among others.

Chinese New Year Parade

The Chinese New Year starts with the New Moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. The 15th day of the new year is called the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated at night with lantern displays and children carrying lanterns in a parade. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are celebrated as a family affair, a time of reunion and thanksgiving. The celebration was traditionally highlighted with a religious ceremony given in honor of Heaven and Earth, the gods of the household and the family ancestors.

Ecuador celebrates a unique tradition on the last day of the year. Elaborate effigies, called Años Viejos (Old Years) are created to represent people and events from the past year. Often these include political characters or leaders that the creator of the effigy may have disagreed with. The dummies are made of straw, newspaper, and old clothes, with papier-mâché masks. Often they are also stuffed with fire crackers. At midnight the effigies are lit on fire to symbolize burning away of the past year and welcoming of the New Year.

Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes “coming full circle,” completing a year’s cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Day will bring good fortune.

New Year's Eve in Times Square

New Year's Eve in Times Square

In the United States, many people go to New Year’s Eve parties. Crowds gather in Times Square in New York City, on State Street in Chicago, and in other public places. At midnight, bells ring, sirens sound, firecrackers explode, and everyone shouts, “Happy New Year!”

The Ano Novo (New Year in Portuguese) celebration, also know in Brazilian Portuguese by the French word Reveillon, is one of the country’s main holidays, and officially marks the beginning of the summer holidays, that usually end by Carnival.

The Spanish ritual on New Year’s eve is to eat twelve grapes at midnight. The tradition is meant to secure twelve happy months in the coming year.

Jewish New Year

The Jews celebrate New Year on the first two days of the seventh month. According to the Jewish New Year customs it is believed that there is a symbolic book in heaven that keeps a record of those who did good and bad deeds. On Rosh Hashanah, which is the New Year, the people are requinavy to account to god for the deeds done during the past year.

The people in India regard the New Year as a time to think of the future in hope and anticipation. The New Year is a time of festivities and a perfect time to think something new and forget the past.

The new year is the most important holiday in Japan, and is a symbol of renewal. In December, various Bonenkai or “forget-the-year parties” are held to bid farewell to the problems and concerns of the past year and prepare for a new beginning. Misunderstandings and grudges are forgiven and houses are scrubbed. At midnight on Dec. 31, Buddhist temples strike their gongs 108 times, in a effort to expel 108 types of human weakness. New Year’s day itself is a day of joy and no work is to be done.

Dec
08

Merry Christmas!

Christmas or Christmas Day is an annual holiday that commemorates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. In the Western world, the birthday of Jesus Christ has been celebrated on December 25th since AD 354, replacing an earlier date of January 6th.

Many of our Christmas traditions were celebrated centuries before the Christ child had been born. Over 4000 years ago, the Mesopotamians celebrated each New Year with a 12-day festival, called Zagmuth. The Mesopotamians, who believed in many gods, held this festival in support of their chief god, Marduk, because they believed that he battled the monsters of chaos at the beginning of each winter.

The ancient Romans held a celebration each year in honor of their god Saturn. The festival, which they called Saturnalia, began in the middle of December and lasted until the first of January.

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.  (Norman Vincent Peale)

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. (Norman Vincent Peale)

New Christmas customs appeared in the Middle Ages. The most prominent contribution was the carol, which by the 14th century had become associated with the religious observance of the birth of Christ. The word carol or carole is a medieval word of French and Anglo-Norman origin, believed to mean a dance song or a circle dance accompanied by singing. Today carols are regularly sung at Christian religious services. Some compositions have words which are clearly not of a religious theme, but are often still referred to as “carols”.

Caren Carpenter – Jingle Bells

Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart. (Washington Irving)

Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart. (Washington Irving)

Christmas tree

Christmas tree

The tradition of having an evergreen tree become a symbol of Christmas goes back past recorded written history. The Druids in ancient England and the Romans in Europe both used evergreen branches to decorate their homes and public buildings to celebrate the Winter Solstice.

In 16th century German`s fir trees were decorated with apples, roses, gilded candies and colored paper. Over the years, these traditions were adopted by Christians, who incorporated them as part of their Christmas holiday celebration.

“Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall” – Larry Wilde

Elvis Presley – Silent Night

Father Christmas (known as Santa Claus in North America, Australia and Ireland) is the name used in many English speaking countries for a symbolic figure associated with Christmas. A similar figure with the same name (in other languages) exists in several other countries, including France (Père Noël) Spain (Papá Noel), Portugal (Pai Natal), Italy (Babbo Natale), Romania (Moş Crăciun), Russia (Ded Moroz).

Santa Claus

Santa Claus

The American version of the Santa Claus figure received its inspiration and its name from the Dutch legend of Sinter Klaas, brought by settlers to New York in the 17th century. The most influential figure in the shaping of today’s generous as loving Santa Claus was a real man St. Nicholas of Myra (now Turkey), a fourth century bishop. He was rich and very kind man and had a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people who needed it.

In one of the most well-known legends, Saint Nicholas is said to have thrown three bags of gold coins down the chimney of a poor man who couldn’t afford the dowry for his three daughters. Without the dowry, they would remain unmarried and unemployed, and would probably be forced into a life of prostitution. In another version of the story, the bags of coins fell into stockings the girls had placed by the fire to dry. This is the basis for the modern tradition of hanging stockings by the fireplace, and also the tradition of leaving oranges in the toe of Christmas stockings.

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree:  the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.  (Burton Hillis)

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other. (Burton Hillis)

OH HOLY NIGHT

The custom of sending Christmas cards started in the U.K. in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. He was a civil servant (Government worker) who was very interested in the new ‘Public Post Office’ and wondered how it could be used more by ordinary people. Sir Henry had the idea of Christmas Cards and with his friend John Horsley, who was an artist, they designed the first card and sold them for 1 shilling each. Nowadays, cards have all sorts of pictures on them: jokes, winter pictures, Father Christmas, or romantic scenes of life in past times.

Christmas is the season when you buy this year's gifts with next year's money

Christmas is the season when you buy this year's gifts with next year's money

The practice of giving gifts at the beginning of winter traces back to ancient Rome during the feast of Kalends. High ranking officials were expected to give gifts to the Emperor since the Winter Solstice celebrated the birth of the Sun God, to whom the emperor was directly related. Originally, these gifts had taken the form of branches of evergreen taken from the grove of the goddess Strenia; but Caligula was not very keen on olive branches. So, the Roman dignitaries began to give gifts of honey and cakes as symbols of their wish that the New Year might be full of sweetness, and gold that it might bring prosperity.

Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.  (Charles Schulz)

Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone. (Charles Schulz)

Frank Sinatra – Let it snow

It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air. (W. T. Ellis)

It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air. (W. T. Ellis)