Time for festive cheer!

It's Ugadi! Even as we celebrate new beginnings, let's look at the way the rest of the world rings in the new year. Kalpana Sunder takes us along...

Bangkok, Thailand - February 8, 2016: Lion dance and people with chinese masks at Yaowarat Road during the celebration of the Chinese New Year in Chinatown Bangkok Thailand

New Year is always a great time of merriment and celebration, but New Year traditions in different countries vary widely. We take a look at some of the most interesting traditions from across the world. These traditions vary from place to place with peculiar local customs, distinctive food served on these special days and unique celebrations.

Nowruz — Persian New Year

This is the New Year for Persians or Iranians and those who are Zoroastrians, and is celebrated by almost 300 million people around the world in Iran and other countries, especially throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. Also celebrating the commencement of spring, Nowruz is one of the most ancient celebrations in the world. The date which falls in mid-March each year marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere.

People start preparing for Nowruz with a major spring cleaning of their homes and buy new clothes to wear on New Year’s Day. Children run through the streets banging loudly on pots and knocking on doors, asking for sweets or money like Halloween. Family members gather around a ‘Haft Sin’ table, which includes seven symbolic items starting with the Farsi letter ‘S’ — such as sprouts (sabzeh) and dried fruit (senjed) with traditional items on it like coloured eggs, a mirror, traditional cakes, and pots of sprouting grains to signify growth, and a sweet pudding made from wheat germ.

Many families also place a goldfish on the table for good luck and the Quran or poetry books to symbolise education and enlightenment. They visit friends and neighbours, share their meals, and host parties. In Iran, it lasts for 13 days, and on the 13th day, families go on picnics and enjoy nature.

Chinese New Year

It is celebrated not only in China, but also in Korea, Vietnam, and in Chinese communities throughout the world. The Chinese New Year is the Lunar New Year, a much-celebrated event with special decorations like red lanterns, paper cranes, fruit trees and floral arrangements. In the days leading up to the New Year, homes are cleaned thoroughly — floors scrubbed and windows cleaned. Street markets sell decorations, red packets, toys, clothes and trinkets. One of the important traditions is handing out cash in red envelopes — the senior members of a family usually hand out money to young people in red envelopes.

Another tradition associated with the Chinese New Year is bursting firecrackers as it is believed that the sound and fire can ward off evil spirits and monsters. Worshippers visit temples on the third day of the Lunar New Year to light incense and pray for good luck in the year ahead. There are lion dances performed for the public in streets and parades accompanied by cymbals and drums. The crowning event of the Chinese New Year celebration is a family banquet, with many special items on the menu, each with a connotation, for example, noodles for long life, fish and sweet rice cakes for a rich, sweet life.

 

Rosh Hashanah —
Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a two-day holiday in September, commemorating the end of the seven days of Creation from the Book of Genesis. In the month before, Jews ask for forgiveness from friends and family. On both the days, candles are lit, traditional prayers are said, and a festive meal is relished. A hollowed-out ram’s horn called shofar is used to make a noise, which is supposed to remind you to repent.

According to the Jewish religion, in the days following the creation of the universe, God had not determined the fate of mankind. Through being quiet and introspective, the Jewish people believe to allow God to decide their fate for the following year. People visit synagogues and go to a nearby body of water to cast away sins from the past year in a ceremony called tashlich. Traditional Jewish foods are part of Rosh Hashanah — bread called challah, fish, pomegranates, and apples dipped in honey. Rosh Hashanah ends with saying blessings over a full cup of kosher wine or grape juice.

Songkran — Thai New Year

Thai New Year, also called Songkran, is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Sankranti’ and is celebrated from April 13-15. It is also celebrated in countries like Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. Water is the main element of Songkran and it’s the time of the ultimate water fight. Thais believe that water cleanses you of bad luck of the past and blesses you with good luck and happiness in the coming year. They throw containers of water, use water guns, and even garden hoses to soak each other. The water is symbolic in the hopes that it will bring good rains in the New Year.

Buddhists also visit temples throughout Songkran where water is poured on Buddha images and statues and images are cleansed for good luck and prosperity. A tempting array of traditional foods like mango with sticky rice and minced chicken salad are enjoyed throughout the celebrations. It’s a time of positivity and enthusiasm with even monks and the elderly participating in the festivities.

 

Oshogatsu —Japanese New Year

The Japanese have their own unique set of traditions, of course, when it comes to New Year celebrations. Nengaj (New Year greeting cards) are sent to friends, co-workers and others. New Year’s Eve is also known as Oshogatsu, and the tradition is of ringing bells in Buddhist temples 108 times at the stroke of midnight. The reason for 108 is that according to the Buddhist faith, this is the number of human desires, which is the cause of suffering. Toshikoshi soba, or year-end soba, is a dish of noodles in hot broth traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve. O-sechi ryori is the New Year’s Day feast which has as many as 15 items that are intended to invite good luck and prosperity for the New Year. Most people head out for hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year, to pray and express gratitude. Another beautiful custom is gathering anywhere with a good view of the horizon to catch the hatsuhinode, the first sunrise of the year.

 

Nyepi — Balinese New Year

Nyepi or Balinese New Year, according to the Saka Calendar, is defined as the day after the new moon closest to the spring. On the eve of Nyepi, Balinese people walk in procession, accompanied by gamelan music, to the main crossroads of their village. There, they perform an exorcism ceremony to drive away evil, symbolised by huge monster-like paper-and-bamboo figurines. But on Nyepi itself, everything is silent. The entire island comes to a standstill and the streets are deserted. No fires are lit, offices are closed, no music is played, and radios and televisions are turned off. It is forbidden to leave one’s house, or to talk more than necessary. Everyone welcomes the New Year in prayer, silence and introspection.

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Time for festive cheer!

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