New Year's Worldwide: Different Dates, Different Traditions

New Year's Worldwide: Different Dates, Different Traditions

By Tehya Wachuta, Feature Editor uploaded at 12:06 p.m. on Friday, February 23, 2018

As the second month of the new year comes to a close, the UMM campus is celebrating the arrival of 2018 in a variety of ways. For many, New Year’s celebrations may involve nothing more than gathering together with family and friends, staying up until midnight, and making a New Year’s resolution — and possibly keeping it. Other cultures, however, have many different ways to ensure good luck in a new year, and UMM recognized one of these with the Spring Festival on February 16.

The Spring Festival was the celebration of the Lunar New Year which is celebrated in China, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mauritius, Australia and the Philippines. The Lunar New Year is based off of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. This year, the Spring Festival began on February 16 and will end on March 3. Like any New Year’s celebration, the Spring Festival has its own traditions and origin story.

According to legend, an ancient monster named Nián would annually come into the villages of China and feast on the animals and people. One year, a beggar came into a village while the other villagers were fleeing their homes to the mountains in preparation for Nián’s arrival. An old woman took him in, and he decorated the homes of the village with red paper and set up firecrackers. At midnight, Nián arrived for his annual feast, but the red paper and loud firecrackers frightened him, and the monster left the village without destroying anything. The villagers learned that the color red and loud noises were Nián’s weaknesses. From that day forward, they put red decorations up and set firecrackers off at midnight for New Year’s.

Although the Spring Festival was the only event held on campus which celebrated the New Year’s traditions of other cultures, there are plenty of other cultures worldwide with their own unique traditions. In Ecuador, scarecrows stuffed with old papers and photographs are burned at midnight on January 1. Usually, those scarecrows are shaped like important or disliked people from the previous year. Burning reminders of the previous year is a symbol of a fresh start.

Scarecrow burning is not the only destructive tradition to clean one’s slate — the people of Peru fist fight one another to settle their differences before starting another year. There aren’t many rules, though a fighter cannot bite or kick an opponent who has been knocked to the ground. Police officers and referees stand by just in case the crowds gets too wild.

There are, of course, more harmless traditions, such as dropping scoops of ice cream on the floor in Switzerland or throwing bread at the walls in Ireland to rid one’s home of bad luck, but all of these traditions aim to do the same thing — bring good luck into a new year. People around the world use traditions such as these to symbolize the start of a significant change or an attempt to better themselves, but it isn’t necessary to wait until New Year’s Eve to make resolutions — especially when many people don’t keep them for very long. If people want to better themselves, there’s no need to wait for an important day to do it; they can easily make an ordinary day important by changing their mindset, or altering their perspective.

The Babylonians first created New Year’s resolutions nearly 4,000 years ago. They celebrated a 12-day religious festival, called Akitu, and made promises to their king and gods. During the festival, the Babylonians pledged their loyalty to the upcoming year’s king and made promises to their gods to pay any debts they owed. If the Babylonians kept their word throughout the year, (which began in March for them) they believed that the gods would bestow good luck on them. But if they didn’t, the gods would no longer favor them. The Akitu festival is thought to be the origin of modern New Year’s resolutions. The festival was a celebration of the rebirth of Marduk, the sun god, just as present-day New Year’s Eve celebrates the occurrence of a new calendar year. While modern people don’t hold a ritual to slap their new king across the face and wait for his tears to signify approval from the gods (which is what happened in Akitu), we do make promises to ourselves to try to become better people in a new year. Whether or not we keep these promises, it is the concept of betterment that is important. If people are aware of their flaws and willing to change, that mindset is more promising than an ill-kept resolution created out of social obligation.