Our Community - New Year’s Day

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 14, No. 46            December 30, 2004

Features: Search Issues | Read Back Issues | Subscriptions | Merchandise Ordering Information

Tew Year’s Day is the first day of the calendar year. Celebrated in almost every country today, January 1st has only been recognized as a holiday by Western nations for approximately 400 years. Since earliest times, people have sought to satisfy the deep-rooted longing for recreation by celebrating the New Year. Observed on varying dates in different lands, New Year festivals mark the essential point where time is deemed to begin anew; a surfacing of the pure and immaculate for both the world itself and individuals alike, provided the proper steps are taken. This week, allow The San Pedro Sun to take you back in time to when New Year’s was first celebrated and a few traditions that started it all.

    Ancient Babylonians (who resided in modern day Iraq), although they had no written calendar, celebrated the beginning of a New Year on what is now March 23rd. This was the time of year when spring arrived and new crops planted. This festival lasted for 11 days, during which the King was stripped of his clothing and banished from the land. For those 11 days, the people could do as they pleased. The King, wearing fine robes, returned to his land on the eleventh day, and his arrival was announced by a grand procession. The Babylonians went back to work and behaved in proper fashion, once more. Thus, each New Year, the people made a fresh start to their lives.

    The custom of using a baby to symbolize the New Year began in Greece around 600 B.C. The Greeks celebrated their God of Wine, Dionysus, by parading a baby in a basket to represent the annual rebirth of Dionysus as the spirit of fertility. The early Egyptians also used the baby as a symbol of rebirth.

    Ancient Egyptians originally celebrated the New Year with the Feast of Opet around the middle of June. At this time, the Nile River usually overflowed its banks and consequently, people were unable to work and would be free to take part in the festivities. Statues of the God, Amon, together with sculptures of his wife and son, would be taken by boat down the Nile from Karnak to Luxor, where the people would sing, dance and feast for a 24 days. During the Festival of Opet, Thebans could ask the god questions that could be answered by a simple yes or no. If the barge dipped forward, the answer to any question was yes; if it backed away, the reply was no. The statues were then taken back to the temple.

    Phoenicians and Persians proclaimed the beginning of the New Year on the Autumnal Equinox (September 22nd). Early Greeks first observed the occasion at the Winter Solstice (December 21st) and later, at the Summer Solstice (June 21st).

    The Romans initially observed their New Year in March, a festival which they called Calends or Kalends. It was a time when people decorated their homes with lights and greenery and gave each other gifts carefully chosen for their luck-bringing properties. Sweets or honey were given to ensure peace, gold, silver or monetary presents to ensure prosperity, while lamps were presented for a year filled with light. The festival lasted for three days, during which time everyone was permitted to do what they pleased, slaves and masters dined together and normal rules of the society were put on hold. The Emperor and other select politicians would usually be presented with gifts and wishes of good fortune for the year ahead. However, since the Emperors were constantly tampering with the Roman calendar, in order to set the calendar right, the Senate, in 153 B.C., proclaimed that the first day of a New Year would be observed on January 1st. However, tampering with the calendar continued until 46 B.C., when Julius Caesar established what was to later be known as the Julian calendar. Again, it designated January 1st as the New Year.

    In 487 A.D., New Year’s Day became a Holy Day in the Christian Church when it was declared the Feast of the Circumcision. Originally, parties were not allowed on this day because the pagans had followed that custom. Although the early Christians denounced the practice of using a baby as being pagan in nature, its significance as a personification of rebirth later forced the Church to reevaluate its position. Eventually, it was decreed that Church members would be permitted to celebrate the New Year using a symbolic baby, provided it illustrated the birth of the baby Jesus.

    However, in time, attitudes changed and it was deemed that celebrations could again be held. In the 1500s, January 1st became generally recognized as New Year’s Day when the Gregorian calendar was introduced.

    In Ancient Rome, the beginning of the New Year was a time to expunge the ills of the past twelve months and establish a pattern for the twelve months to come through good conduct. A New Year marked the start of a new chapter on a person’s lives. As such, it was believed that people should banish the malicious spirits and accumulated evils of the past year in order to prevent infection of the coming year. Next, came the rites of purification, followed by positive acts, which ensured a favorable future. New Year horns and fireworks were used as tools intended to banish evil spirits. Friends reconciled any differences; adversaries suspended court cases and people exchanged gifts. Many Roman citizens also brought gifts to the Emperor and wished him good fortune. Initially, these donations were simple branches of bay and palm leaves but later, more expensive presents were given. Roman Senators received flowers and fruits, or even bolts of beautiful fabrics from people who wanted favors. Roman merchants carried this gift-giving custom as far East as Persia (now known as Iran). There, the ancient Persians followed the Roman tradition by exchanging presents of eggs. Since an egg hatches into life, this custom meant much the same thing as “turning over a new leaf.” The Celts, a race of people who lived in Gaul (now known as France) and some areas of Britain prior to the Roman invasion celebrated their New Year at the end of October. The festival was called Samhain, which means “summer’s end.”

    When the Roman legions arrived in England, they found that the Druid priests celebrated their New Year on March 10th. The priests would cut branches of mistletoe, which grew on the sacred oak and gave the boughs to people as charms. The early English adopted many of the Roman traditions. Later, English people followed the custom of cleaning chimneys on New Year’s Day. This was supposed to bring good luck to the household during the coming year. Today, the common phrase used is “cleaning the slate,” rather than “cleaning the chimney,” however, the intent is the same...the making of resolutions to correct faults and bad habits and the resolve to make the coming year a better one than before. The actual tradition of making New Year Resolutions is believed to have originated with the ancient Babylonians, whose most popular resolution is thought to have been the return of borrowed farm equipment.

    The English revived the Roman custom of giving gifts to their Emperor in the 1200s. Jewelry, gloves and other presents were brought to the English monarch. Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), for example, built up a fine collection of hundreds of pairs of richly embroidered and bejeweled gloves by virtue of this custom. English husbands also adopted the habit of giving their wives money on New Year’s Day, which they used to buy pins and jewelry for the whole year.

    Many ancient Roman traditions continue to survive in Europe and Latin America, overlaid with new superstitions. In many areas, the first person to enter a house on New Year’s Day is thought to determine the luck for the coming year. Bad luck is believed to accompany a woman...particularly one with fair or red hair. Tall, dark-haired men are highly favored as “first-footers,” supposedly bringing the assurance of a happy year to come.

    The use of a baby’s image as a banner for New Year celebrations was brought to America by the Germans, who had used the figurine since the Fourteenth Century.

Search SanPedroSun.net go!
| AmbergrisCaye.com | Island Info | Community | History | Visitor Center |
Belize News | BelizeSearch.com | Messages |

Copyright © San Pedro Sun. Design by Casado Internet Group

San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, Belize News