Comment and Analysis

Ten things about New Year

Mail & Guardian Correspondent

The earliest records of New Year festivities go back to the Babylonians about 4000 years ago.

The year 2013 is the first year since 1987 to be made up of four different digits. (AFP)

1. They celebrated the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere, when day and night are equal, which the Babylonians' regarded as the beginning of the new year. They marked the celebration with a 11-day festival called Akitu, derived from the harvesting of barley in spring, with a different ritual on each day.

2. In countries where Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the predominant religion, New Year is celebrated according to the Julian calendar – it falls on January 14 in the Gregorian calendar and is a religious holiday dubbed Old New Year. January 1 is treated simply as a civic holiday. The orthodox churches of Georgia, Russia, Serbia, the Republic of Macedonia and Jerusalem still commemorate the new year in this way.

3. The year 2013 is the first year since 1987 to be made up of four different digits.

4. In Spain and several other Spanish-speaking countries, people eat a dozen grapes, each one representing their hopes for the months ahead.

5. The month of January gets its name from Janus, the two-faced god who looks backwards into the old year and forwards into the new. Janus was also the patron and protector of arches (ianus in Latin), gates, doors, doorways, endings and beginnings.

6. In the Philippines, people eat round food such as grapes, which resemble coins and wealth. They also sport polka-dotted clothing, because of the round shapes, in the hope that it will bring prosperity.

7. This year in Burma, after nearly five decades under military rule that discouraged or banned big public gatherings, about 90000 people gathered in Rangoon to participate in the country's first New Year's Eve countdown.

8. In Germany, Austria and Fin­land, some people continue the fortune-telling tradition of Bleig­iessen. Families get together and melt a ball of lead in a spoon over a candle. The molten metal is dropped into a bowl of cold water. The shapes made by the hardened lead supposedly foresee the fortune of the following year. A ball means luck throughout the year, an anchor foretells a need for help and a cross signifies death.

9. New Year's resolutions began during the rule of Julius Caesar when people made promises to be good to others. This tradition took a religious tilt with the adoption of Christianity and involved prayers and fasting.

10. Ecuador welcomes in the New Year by burning dolls symbolising the old year (Año Viejo). They are made out of paper, wood shavings and old clothes and are usually life-size. They sometimes resemble a disliked famous person or politician, or symbolise regrets from the past year. They are displayed during the day and burnt in the evening to clear the way for the new year.

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