Fireworks, ball drops, and cries of “Happy New Year!” are just around the corner. But why?…
Times Square at Midnight. Photo by Nicole Hall via Wikimedia Commons
In American culture, New Years is often shorthand for loud parties, extravagant fireworks, and flimsy New Years resolutions. But New Years traditions from around the world highlight some fascinating deeper reasons why humans mark this turn of the calendar. What’s really behind that urge to say “Happy New Year”?
For Jews around the world, the New Year is a time to reflect on one’s shortcomings and ask for forgiveness.
The Talisch Prayer at the Tel Aviv Beach. Image from Government Press Office (Israel) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
It’s great to have high ideals and lofty goals, but the truth is, we inevitably fail one another in ways big and small. The Jewish Lunar New Year is marked by the holy day of Rosh Hashanah (as opposed to the Gregorian Solar New Year, January 1st), and typically falls in September. The day is marked with solemn daytime worship services and traditions such as Tashlikh (“casting off”), in which worshippers empty their pockets in a river or ocean to release their sins. Afterwards, apples and honey are served to mark a sweet new beginning.
Balinese New Year is best known for its extravagant puppet parades – but parades are just the prelude.
A giant Balinese puppet, symbolizing evil spirits. Image from pakec (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pakec/2345470402/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
After days of rowdy parades to chase off bad spirits and celebrate the gods, Balinese New Year’s Day (Nyepi) is spent in total silence. Through meditation and fasting, the Balinese balance out the noisy festivities before charting a course into the New Year.
Dreamland Beach, Bali. Image from Krismartin https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15836732
The Chinese New Year focuses on the home, the family, and connection to one’s ancestors.
Father and child at Chinese New Year Parade in London. Image from Matito from Reykjavík, Iceland (Chinese New Year) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Relationships are essential to human life — in fact, some scientists argue they’re as important as food and shelter. On New Years in Denmark, people celebrate their friendships by smashing old chinaware on each others’ doorsteps (the more broken crockery on your doorstep, the more friends you have). The Chinese have a slightly tamer (and cleaner) set of traditions. To please the ancestors and the gods, Chinese families do a thorough clean of the house, purging bad luck and stale energy. Cleaning house allows family members to reconnect with each other, too — nothing brings a family together like chores! The day is capped off with parades, a big feast, and then fireworks to scare away bad spirits and bring luck to the family in the coming year.
The Hindu New Year of Diwali commemorates our ability to endure.
Diwali oil lamps lit during the Diwali, festival of lights on Lakshmi Puja day in Darjeeling. By Benoy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Life ain’t easy, as the saying goes. When Diwali arrives in October/November, Hindus light small earthenware lamps to symbolize the endurance of light and goodness even in the darkest of times. Little wonder Diwali is also called, “The Festival of Light.”
5. A Fresh Start
The common thread between New Years traditions around the world, from Bali to New York? The chance to start fresh.
We hope this post has inspired you to make the most of New Year’s. Here’s to a fresh start and good fortune in 2018!
Posted by World Endeavors on December 29, 2017
World Endeavors believes that international travel has the power to change lives, broaden horizons, and deepen intercultural understanding. The world is undergoing rapid changes, with societies becoming more interconnected and environmentally aware; at the same time a more challenging global economy inspires in many a need to reach out and make a positive difference while seeking personal growth opportunities. There has never been a better time than now to travel abroad.