Saturday, January 18, 2003
R O O T S


The New Year - II
by  Deepti

THE Chinese celebrate the New Year holiday by exchanging gifts, holding parades and exploding firecrackers. Later, houses are cleaned, old clothes are thrown out and debts are settled. Homes are decorated with red banners, flowers, and good luck scrolls. People who keep a kitchen god smear his lips with honey or offer sticky rice cakes so that sweet remarks will be said when he returns to heaven. On New Yearís Day, older people are wished long life, business people success, and young people fine marriages.

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is celebrated on the first two days of the Jewish calendarís first month, Tishri, which falls in September or October. The rabbi blowing a shofar or ramís horn in the synagogue heralds the Jewish New Year. At the beginning of the New Year, God decides the fate of the soul for the year. People wish each other life. On the tenth day of Tishri called Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement, Jews fast for 24 hours. It is the holiest day of the year and people ask God for forgiveness for promises they didnít keep. Prayers are said. Rabbis wear white robes as a symbol of purity and renewal. The people wear new clothing. Leather is not worn. After sundown, families and friends break the fast by sharing a meal. Apples and honey are eaten to symbolise a sweet year. Dates, figs, and pomegranates may be eaten. An egg bread called challah is eaten to represent Godís crown.

EARLIER COLUMNS
The New Year
January 4, 2003
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
Potpourri
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

The date for New Yearís Day may not be the same in every culture but it is always a time for celebration and for customs to ensure good luck in the coming year. In France, families gather and exchange gifts and greeting cards. Children often present their parents with homemade gifts to wish them Bonne Annee. In Italy, a piece of mistletoe is hung over the front door to bring good luck to the entire household. In Scotland, New Yearís Eve is called Hogmanay or moon of the hag. It honours the deity Hogmagog. Bonfires are lit, torches and smoking sticks are used to ward off evil spirits. After sunset, people collect juniper and water to purify the home. People bring delicious cakes and cookies to parties. It is believed that the first person to enter a house will receive good luck, so, friends and relatives come to visit the home. Seeing a cat, dog, woman, redhead or beggar is unlucky. Visitors bring a gift of coal or whiskey to ensure prosperity in the New Year. At the moment the New Year arrives, doors and windows are opened to let out the old year and drive out the black dogs of the underworld that pass through. It is bad luck to engage in marriage proposals, break glass, spin flax, sweep or carry out rubbish on New Yearís Eve.

Tap-root

There are diverse opinions about the New Year in a country like India, where the Hindu culture itself is rich and variegated. Most Hindu New Year festivals fall in the beginning of the spring months when nature turns bountiful and blesses the earth with fruitful greenery. The fresh harvests that are the fruits of past labour and the commencement of a new agricultural cycle symbolise the dawn of another year. Thus, every colourful spring festival of the Hindus is essentially a New Year celebration.