Saturday, January 4, 2003

The New Year

THE New Year parties are over and everyone is busy with their resolutions. The New Year is celebrated all over the world in different ways and on different dates. A peep into the way it is celebrated in different cultures is an interesting exercise. It may seem that such a survey may not be of much use for a study of words but then appearances are often deceptive! Just read on.

The New Year was not celebrated on January 1 always, and it doesn’t begin on that date everywhere in the world even today. It begins on that date only in those places where a 365-day solar calendar is used. January 1 marked the beginning of the New Year in 46 B.C., when Julius Caesar developed a calendar that would reflect the seasons more accurately than the previous calendars had. The Romans named the first month of the year after Janus, the god of beginnings and the guardian of doors and entrances. He is always shown as having two faces, one at the front of his head and one at the back. Thus, he could look backward and forward simultaneously. At midnight on December 31, the Romans imagined Janus looking back at the old year and forward to the new one. The Romans began a tradition of exchanging gifts on New Year’s Eve by giving one another branches from sacred trees for good luck. Later, nuts and coins embossed with the profile of Janus became more common New Year’s gifts.

Lively lives
December 21, 2002
Fashion statements
December 7, 2002
Spreading wings
November 23, 2002
Borrowed words
November 9, 2002
Multiple facts
October 26, 2002
October 12, 2002
Where did this one come from?
September 28, 2002
Who changed the meaning?
September 14, 2002
Who coins new words?
August 31, 2002
Current trends
August 17, 2002

In the Middle Ages, Christians changed New Year’s Day to December 25, the birthday of Jesus. Then they changed it to March 25, a holiday called the Annunciation. In the sixteenth century, Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar, and New Year was once again celebrated on January 1.

The Julian and Gregorian calendars are solar calendars. However, some cultures follow lunar calendars. A year in a lunar calendar is less than 365 days because the months are based on the phases of the moon. The Chinese use a lunar calendar. Their New Year begins at the time of the first full moon, sometime between January 19 and February 21. At midnight, drums, firecrackers, paper dragons, red ribbons and banners are used to drive away evil spirits.

The Islamic year starts anew every 354 days. Because there are no adjustments like the leap year to make, each calendar year corresponds to the time taken by the earth to revolve around the sun. The first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram, does not fall in the same season every year.


There are two main theories governing the Hindu system that has come up with two entirely different calendars. According to the Hindu Saka Calendar, the year 2002 was actually 1922. This calendar was developed during the Saka Era in 78 AD. The Saka calendar, based on the astronomical theories given in the Vedas, is a lunar calendar unlike the Gregorian Solar Calendar. A section of the Hindus in India and Indonesia follow it even today. The Indian National Calendar follows the Saka system.

The second calendar is the Vikram Samvat Calendar that marks the Gregorian year 2001 as B.S 2057. Vikram Samvat has 57 years more than the A. D. year. The new Vikram Samvat starts from the Chaitra Purnima i.e. April 13 in the Roman calendar. In North India this calendar is followed extensively.