Many of us are eagerly waiting for the New Year’s celebrations. While this year was hit or miss for most of us, let’s hope the upcoming year will create a new normal. While many of us still have a lockdown, let’s dive into something from the past. As most of us know, in 1582, introducing Georgian Calendar was the main reason why we celebrate January 1 as New Year. Does that mean people didn’t celebrate before 1582? Sounds fishy, right?
As it turns out, many people did celebrate New Year but it was not on January 1. Unlike today, the ancient world did not have any universal calendars. Each New Year holds a different meaning. Each New Year festival is a symbol of happiness, prosperity and still prevails in many cultures. Today, we will be discussing some of the ancient New Year traditions and stories around it. So, sit back and relax as we tell a tale of holidays.
The festival was celebrated around March and April. Babylon existed in c. 2000 BC. The New Year’s celebrations are also called Akitu. Unlike today, the celebration was in honor of Supreme god Marduk. This festival signifies the beginning of growing crops. King started the festival by paying a visit to the temple of Nabu. The priest would hand him scepter. King would then spend a night in the city of Borsippa. The city of Borsippa had temples to perform religious ceremonies. While for the rest of the citizens, it was a merry time. They would get a week of celebrations and holidays.
One of the interesting aspects of this tale has to be ritual before God Marduk. King would strip off his royal emblems like a crown, etc. After swearing that he protected the city, the priest would slap the King. The high priest would slap him and pull his ear till King cried. It was believed that Royal’s tear would prolong his reign. However, some believe it was a way to control the Monarch.
Egyptians celebrated New year in mid-July. Egyptian New Year’s celebrations revolves around the Nile river. Before the annual flooding of river Nile, celebration ensures fertility of land and protection for the coming year. People saw rebirth and held feast and rituals. Just like today, Egyptian drank a lot more booze. Their goal was to drink so much as they would pass out. No surprises here why people would call it the Festival Of Drunkenness. However, they had good reason to do so.
According to mythology, lion-headed goddess Sekhmet decided to destroy humans. The Sun god, Ra, tricked her before she could. He offered her blood-red beer. Sekhmet, thinking it to be human blood, drank and passed out. Thus, saving the human race. Just like the story, people would often pass out. A handful of people would remain sober. Their task would be rouse sleeping drunker while banging drums. Little rough for a hangover, don’t you think? However, we will advise you to drink responsibly. Even when you attend a virtual party.
While we celebrate New year in January, we were not the only ones. The word January derives from Janus an ancient Roman deity. Janus has two faces which are facing opposite sides. He was the god of changes and beginning. His resembles signifies looking back in the past and toward the future. Romans celebrated while learning from their past and planning their future. People offered Janus foods and gifts. It was believed that they would gain a fortune.
What you do on the first day of New Year’s celebrations, you do that the entire year. If you have heard this or its variation, you are not the only one. Romans believed the same. According to poet Ovid, Romans never slack off on the first day of the new year. Idleness was often frowned upon. It was a bad omen for Roman to be lazy on New Year. People also restrain themselves from negative thoughts. They tried to be nice while postponing anger, rivalry and quarrels. Something we can learn from them.
While it does not fall in January, it still is one of the ancient new year festivals. New Year’s celebrations started during the Shang Dynasty about three thousand years ago. People clean their house to get rid of bad luck. Some people pay back old debts for a fresh start. They also decorate doors with paper scrolls. Each year is associated with one of the twelve zodiac animals. Each animal signifies a special trait. Fireworks are also something often used.
Famous story related to the New year is Legend Of Nian. A monster, Nian, would terrorise people on New Year Eve. He lived at the bottom of the sea. He devoured cattle and people. Villagers would often hide to avoid him. Later, an old man showed up on New Year eve. While everyone was busy hiding and running away, a grandmother offers him food. He promised to relieve them of their troubles. He decorates the village with red lanterns. At New Year, he set off firecrackers. This startled Nian and he never returned. Interestingly, Nian translates to Year in English.
Commonly known as Nowruz, it is still popular in many parts of the world. There are versions where Cyrus the Great celebrates Nowruz. The ancient festival focused on rebirth with the return of spring. The festival would last for thirteen days. An integral part of the celebration is when a commoner would be made a King for thirteen days. The monarch would often engage in lavish feast and exchanging presents. People also light bonfires and color or dye eggs. On the thirteenth day of Nowruz, people cast away their misfortunes. To do so, they throw sprouted wheatgrass into rivers and canals.
Just like other traditions, we also have a story for Nowruz. A young girl, Nokhodi was very lonely and sad. While she waits for spring to arrive, all she could see was bleak desert. Soon, a gypsy woman sees Nokhodi. She informs Nokhodi that black spell was cast on her. So, spring will not come until she defeats the monster. Little Nokhodi though scared, decides to confront the monster. Soon, she wins the battle and traps him in a glass bottle. Meanwhile, hundreds of riders pass while playing music and celebrating Spring. Ahead of them, Uncle Nowruz brings gifts and greets Nokhodi. She saved the Spring. This story personifies Spring as Uncle Nowruz.
While there are many more traditions in the world, we want you to tell us more about it. Venture out this new year with beautiful tales and inspiring tales. As each tale fills our heart with warmth, we encourage you to share the holiday spirit with your loved ones. Set aside your differences and hope for better opportunities in future.