Although the school year continues to rush forward, we will soon be ushering in a new, calendar year with our students. Many of us who work with younger grades will change the year on our class calendars, and then as we sit with our students during morning meeting, we will explain to them how a new year has started.
But for a moment, what if we were to recognize that there is nothing inherently special about the new year? Because a year is a cycle, what if we considered for just a moment that the first day and last day of the new year could be any day of the year? For instance, during the early colonial days, the American colonists, who followed the Julian calendar, celebrated New Years on March 25th. This date had been chosen to coincide with Annunciation Day when, according to Christian tradition, the Angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. During the 1500s, Pope Gregory XIII authorized the use of the Gregorian calendar in lieu of the Julian calendar. The new calendar changed when the new year would begin in Catholic countries to January 1st. However, England and her colonies did not accept this change until 1752.
Similarly, there are many cultures around the world which celebrate their New Years Day on different days of the year, based on different calendars. Here are just a few examples:
- Rosh Hashanah – The ancient Jewish calendar accounts for four new years celebrations. The most well known and grandly celebrated is Rosh Hashanah, the anniversary of creation or when in accordance with the Jewish faith, God created the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated from sunset the first day to sunset the next. Hearing the sounding of the shofar or the ram’s horn, lighting candles, feasting, prayers, family time, and services at the synagogue often characterize the holiday. Rosh Hashanah also starts the high holidays, which involves fasting and repentance. Rosh Hashanah falls sometime in September or October of the Gregorian calendar, based upon the luni-solar, Hebrew calendar.
- Muharram (Hijri New Year) – According to the lunar calendar followed by Muslims, Hijri New Year is celebrated in July or August depending upon the year. According to adherents, the Islamic New Year denotes the migration of the Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina to avoid religious persecution. The day is celebrated with prayer and reflection upon the beginning of the faith. Additionally, Shia Muslims begin a ten day period of mourning to honor Mohammed’s grandson Husayn Ibn Ali al-Hussein who died in battle ten days after the start of a new year.
- Chūn Jié – Often known as the Spring Festival in China, Chūn Jié is the most important Chinese festival of the year. Many legends surround this new year festival. One tradition states that on every New Years Eve, a beast named Nian tormented the villagers, eating livestock, crops, and villagers themselves. Eventually, a wise sage realized that by decorating the outside of the houses with red items such as scrolls and lanterns, they could scare Nian away. Hence, he started the tradition of decorating outside the home for the new year. Today, the celebration includes fireworks, eating dumplings, local fairs, dragon dances, and visiting family. The Chinese Spring Festival is based on a luni-solar calendar and usually falls some time in January or February. (Because many other cultures also celebrate their new year at the same time, the celebration is often referred to as Lunar New Year; however, this ignores other luni-solar, new year celebrations that occur at different times of the year.)
- Tet Nguyen Dan – The Vietnamese New Year, shortened to Tet, usually falls on the same date as China’s Spring Festival. The holiday is characterized with spending time with family, cleaning in order to rid the house of last year’s bad luck, and the honoring of deceased ancestors, similar to Día de los Muertos in Mexico. The festival usually spans three days.
- Pudhuvarusham – The Tamil New Year, celebrated in India, Singapore, and Sri Lanka among Tamils, usually falls on March 14th of the Gregorian calendar. It is celebrated with prayer, cleaning, new clothes, feasts, and a dish called Mangai-pachadi. Mangai-pachadi is a dish that mixes brown sugar, bitter neem leaves, mango, and red chilis to symbolize the various flavors of life. The person eating the dish prays for the strength to be able to accept each of those life flavors with equal grace during the new year.
As you celebrate the advent of 2022, consider mentioning to your students that there are many other New Year’s celebrations that happen throughout the world and throughout the Gregorian year. Consider comparing and contrasting these celebrations with each other. And consider acknowledging them throughout the year, not just when the Gregorian calendar tells us that we should be thinking about the new year.