The Ancient Origins of the New Year’s Eve

new years

Every year on January 1, many countries around the world celebrate New Year’s Eve. But this is not something so new. In fact, festivals and celebrations that mark the first day of the year go back thousands of years.

While some New Year’s eve are simply occasions for drinking and having fun, many others are related to agricultural or astronomical events. For example, the ancient Egyptian New Year’s eve began with the annual flooding of the Nile River, coinciding with the appearance of the star Sirius in the night sky. The Phoenicians and Persians started their new year with the vernal equinox, and the Greeks celebrated it on the winter solstice. Meanwhile, the start of the Chinese New Year coincides with the second new moon after the winter solstice.

Akitu Festival in Babylon

The world’s earliest New Year’s eve took place some 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon, and it’s deeply entwined with religion and mythology. For the Babylonians in Mesopotamia, the first new moon after the vernal equinox – the day near the end of March with equal length of day and night – signaled the beginning of the new year and represented the rebirth of the natural world. course. The Babylonians marked this event with a significant religious festival called Akitu. The term “Akitu” comes from the Sumerian word for barley – a grain harvested in the spring.

During the Akitu festival, people carry statues of the gods to parade through the streets of the city, while performing a number of rituals to honor their victory over hostile forces. Through these rituals, the Babylonians believed that the gods had cleansed and reborn the world in preparation for the new year and the return of spring.

In addition to New Year’s eve, the Babylonians also celebrated the Akitu festival to celebrate the mythical victory of the sky god Marduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat. The festival also occurs when the country undergoes important political changes, such as when a new king ascends to the throne.

new year's day
new year’s day

New Year of the Ancient Romans

The early Roman calendar consisted of 10 months (304 days), and new year’s eve began on the spring equinox. Romulus – the founder of Rome – created this calendar in the 8th century BC. But over the centuries, Romulus’s calendar got out of sync with the motion of the Sun and exposed many limitations.

By 46 BC, the emperor Julius Caesar solved the problem by consulting the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of his time. The king introduced the Julian calendar, a calendar based on the period of the Sun’s movement, akin to the modern Gregorian calendar that most countries of the world use today.

During his reforms, Caesar established January 1 as the first day of the year, in part to honor the name of January: Janus, the Roman god of change and new beginnings. . The god Janus has two faces to look to the past and the future. After Caesar’s calendar reform, January 1 became the transition date from one year to the next.

The ancient Romans celebrated January 1st by offering sacrifices to the god Janus in the hope of good luck in the new year. They decorate their houses with laurel branches and participate in sumptuous feasts. The first day of the year is considered the premise for the next twelve months. Therefore, friends and neighbors often exchange good wishes and gifts to have a positive start to the new year.

Middle Ages

But in medieval Europe, the celebrations to welcome the new year were considered pagan and incompatible with Christianity. By AD 567, the City Council of Tours [where the former headquarters of Christianity was located] abolished January 1 as the start of the year, replacing it with days of more religious significance. such as December 25, or the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25), also known as “Women’s Day”.

Gregorian Calendar (Solar Calendar)

In 1582, following the reform of the Gregorian calendar, Pope Gregory XIII re-established January 1 as New Year’s Day. Although predominantly Christian countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately, it has only been gradually adopted in predominantly Protestant countries. For example, the British did not use the reformed calendar until 1752. Before that time, the British Empire and its colonies in the Americas still celebrated New Year’s eve in March.

New Year’s eve and bloodthirsty monsters

One of the oldest traditions still alive today is New Year’s Eve. People living during the Shang Dynasty in China celebrated this festival for about three millennia. Originally, the Lunar New Year’s was a way for people to mark the beginning of the spring planting season.

happy chinese new year

The festival is more associated with myths and legends.

The ancient Chinese believed that a bloodthirsty creature named Nian (Chinese for “Five”) lurked in villages every New Year to eat livestock, crops, and even trees. People. To ward off hungry animals, villagers decorated their houses with red decorations, burned bamboo (later replaced by firecrackers), and made loud noises. As a result, the monster Nian never dared to appear again. The bright colors and lights aimed at scaring the monster Nian eventually became a tradition handed down to this day.

Since the Lunar New Year’s is based on the lunar calendar, the holiday usually falls in late January or early February according to the solar calendar, on the second new moon after the winter solstice

Today, happy new years eve is an occasion for family members to get together. People often cook delicious food, give each other red envelopes (usually red), and decorate many other red things in the house for the purpose of good luck.

>> You can read more at Best 15 festivals to welcome the new year’s eve of the world.

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