As the 2018 draws to an end, it is an interesting topic to discuss about the origins of new year celebrations. In some cultures, new year is a chance to drink and feast merrily. For others, it is an event connecting with agricultural or astronomical belief. This piece of writing attempts to give a vivid account of the origins of new year celebrations.
Akitu – Babylon Celebration of New Year
According to the insightful scholars, the earliest New Year festival dated back to 4,000 years ago. And the tribe that associated with this was the ancient citizens of Babylon. Their new year festival revolved around their religion and mythology. The Babylonians of Mesopotamian one of the earliest civilization believed in the first new moon. According to them, the first new moon with the vernal equinox (in the late March with the equal amount of sunlight and darkness) meant a start of new year and rebirth of new world.
This event marked the the big festival, Akitu meaning barley. During the festival, the Babylons would parade with the statues of gods along the streets. The people carried out this ceremony as a symbol of victory over force of evil and chaos. Through their new year celebrations, the Babylonians believed the world was cleaned by the gods and it promised a year following with fruits and success.
The Akitu festival also celebrated the mythological festival of the Babylonian god Marduk over the evil goddess of the sea. This also served a political purpose. It was during the Akitu festival that the new king was crowned.
Janus – Ancient Roman Celebration of New Year
The original calendar of the Roman society consisted of 304 days and 10 months. The calendar was allegedly created by the founder of Rome, Romulus, in the eighth century B.C. However, as time passed by, this calendar did not match the movement of the sun. The emperor Julius Caesar then consulted the astronomers during his reign to create a new calendar. Then came the Julian calendar. This new calendar resembled the modern Gregorian calendar that many countries are using in this day and age.
The part of Caesar’s reform included January 1st as the first day of the year. The ancient Roman celebrated this day to honor Janus god. Janus was the Roman god of changes and beginnings. He was a two-faced god that presented his power: looking back to the past and toward the future. This became the concept of new year: what happened in one year and a positive look at the following year.
1st January Abolished in the Middle Ages
In the medieval Europe, no celebration happened on the first day of the year. Because people in this region considered the 1st January as the pagan ritual and unchristian. Around the middle of the 6th century, the authority abolished the 1st January. Rather, they celebrated their new year during Christmas on December 25th or on “Lady Day” March 25th.
Gregorian calendar: 1st January Restored
1582 marked the introduction of the Gregorian calendar. Pope Gregory XIII restored the 1st day of January as the New Year’s day. Though mostly Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar immediately, it took Protestant countries some years to follow suit. For example, the British Empire and their American colonies still celebrated their New Year in March until 1752.