When Does the New Year Really Start?
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As 2020 continues, it’s fair to ask ourselves, “how many more days until 2021?” And while this year’s celebrations might not be as grand as the last, we are all still counting down. So, when does the New Year really start?
The Gregorian New Year is the most commonly celebrated version here in the United States and even around the world on January 1st, while New Year’s Eve is celebrated December 31st. The Gregorian and Julian Calendars recognize this version of the New Year, which can be traced back to pre-Christian Rome. It is thought that the day was dedicated to Janus, who is the god of beginnings and gateways. You may notice his namesake serves as inspiration for the very first month of the year.
But this isn’t the only New Year celebration.
We took a look at how and when people all over the world will ring in 2021 and found that celebrations vary greatly depending on the version of the holiday! Some countries and cultures will not celebrate the New Year until mid-October or mid-November. Turns out, the day of new beginnings and a new year looks very different around the world.
Gregorian New Year- January 1st
We’ve explained where the January 1st holiday originated, but where did the traditions begin? Traditions like the ball drop in Times Square, popping champagne with close friends, and sharing a kiss with someone as the clock strikes midnight have all become synonymous with ushering in the New Year.
New Year’s Day offers a chance to reflect on the past year and make plans for the next year to be their best yet, but it wasn’t until the 1900s that the celebrations began on December 31st. Since then, we’ve kicked off the “season of fresh starts” the night before the New Year and carried on throughout the next day with parades, a “polar bear plunge,” and even sporting events. While this is the most popular time of year to celebrate the New Year in the U.S., we share this holiday with other countries in the world, including Japan and Great Britain.
Old New Year (Eastern Orthodox)- January 14th
Celebrated in Russia, Macedonia, Georgia, Serbia, Ukraine, and a number of other countries, the Old New Year actually falls two weeks after the Gregorian New Year. The Old New Year holiday lines up with the Julian calendar, as opposed to the Gregorian calendar, and is thought to be much less formal than the Gregorian New Year holiday. While the date is different, the day is still celebrated with food, friends, family, and reflections on the past year.
Tết (Vietnamese Lunar New Year)- January 21st - February 20th
The Vietnamese New Year is known as Tết. The date of the celebration can range but will be celebrated on February 12th in 2021. While in the U.S., the relative importance of the New Year holiday may depend more on individual preference, in Vietnam, Tết is easily the biggest holiday of the year!
The full name for the holiday is Tết Nguyên Đán, which means “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day” in Sino-Vietnamese. Tết is based on the Chinese lunar calendar and is a holiday that recognizes the arrival of spring. It comes with many traditions that are still upheld to this day. These traditions include spending time with friends and family, but only when invited. It is thought that the first guest to arrive at your home determines your fortune for the rest of the year. Another popular tradition involves children receiving money from their elders. This money is given to them in a traditional red envelope. Noise makers and fireworks are a crucial part of the holiday as they are believed to scare off evil spirits, leaving nothing but good fortune for the upcoming year. Fresh fruits and flowers are used as decorations and cây nêu, an artificial bamboo tree, is usually displayed by families. The celebration of Tết can last up to a week, making it a very exciting time of year in Vietnamese culture.
Chūn jié (Chinese Lunar New Year)- January 21st- February 20th
Like the Vietnamese New Year, the Chinese Lunar New Year is celebrated between the end of January and February, falling on February 12th in 2021. This version of the holiday is celebrated by more than 20% of the world’s population. While February 12th is the official holiday, celebrations for the Year of the Ox will begin on February 4th and continue until the 26th. Celebrators typically spend part of their day praying to the gods to ensure a successful New Year.
In a similar tradition as the Vietnamese New Year, part of Chinese New Year celebrations include gifting money in a red envelope from an elder to children. While this is a festive time for friends and families filled with dumplings, wine, and delicious desserts, you’d be wise to spend the designated day before the holiday cleaning up because on New Year’s Day it will be considered bad luck to shower or throw away garbage. While these traditions are special in China, you can also find them happening all over the world on February 12th!
Seollal (Korean Lunar New Year)- January 21st- February 20th
At the same time as the Chinese and Vietnamese New Year, the Korean Lunar New Year, known as Seollal, will be celebrated on February 12th in 2021.
The first records of this holiday are believed to date back to the 3rd century. Traditions include a three-day celebration, including paying respects to ancestors, traveling to see in-laws, celebrating with games and food, and wearing new clothes.
Like the Chinese New Year, Koreans traditionally recognize zodiac animals as representations of the year. 2021 is the Year of the Ox and is believed to be a positive and productive year where hard work is rewarded.
Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian Lunar New Year)- January 21st- February 20th
The Mongolian Lunary New Year falls during the same time as the Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese New Year celebrations. The Tsagaan Sar, or White Moon holiday, dates back to the Liao Dynasty in the 10th celebration and is celebrated differently depending on the region.
In Mongolia, families gather and perform traditional greetings. One such tradition includes grasping elder family member’s elbows as a sign of support. The food, prepared while families are gathered, varies by region and can include a wide variety of dishes, including dairy products, different types of rice, and grilled sheep. Families usually divide and conquer in order to prepare this large feast, beginning days in advance!
Nyepi (Balinese New Year)- March
The Hindu celebration of Nyepi, which translates to Day of Silence, is most commonly celebrated in Bali, Indonesia. Unlike the Gregorian New Year, which is filled with poppers and fireworks, the Balinese New Year is celebrated with complete silence for 24 hours. Balinese people spend most of New Year’s Day meditating. Observing silence is mandatory for locals and tourists alike. Additionally, No one is allowed to roam the city, and bars, restaurants, and beaches are shut down temporarily. Streets are patrolled by security officers to enforce these rules.
While the holiday is quiet, the days leading up to it are filled with parades and music. The New Year will officially begin on March 14, 2021 in Bali.
Nowruz (Persian New Year)- March 19th- 21st
The date of the Persian New Year, known as Nowruz, is precise, down to the minute. In 2021, the day will be celebrated from 4:15 PM on Sunday, March 21st until 4:14 PM on Monday, March 22nd. This date comes from the Iranian calendar, which was reformed during the 11th century. The name Nowruz is derived from the mythical Iranian king of the same name who is thought to have saved mankind from a persistent, deadly winter. The day Nowruz conquered this grave season was designated as “the New Day.” Nowruz is celebrated in many Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, Afghanistan, Albania, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Traditions include deep cleaning your home for a fresh start and buying new clothes.
Kha b’ Nisan (Assyrian New Year) - April 1st
Kha b’ Nisan, or the Assyrian New Year, lands on the first day of April. It is believed that Kha b’ Nisan originated from the ancient Mesopotamian religion observed by many Assyrians. This version of the New Year is commonly celebrated with festivals and traditional music and clothing in Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Turkey.
Today, celebrators gather outdoors, in clubs, or in other social spaces for parades and dance circles to celebrate the beginning of another year.
Thingyan (Burmese New Year)- April 13th - 16th
The Burmese New Year, which begins on April 13th, is a Buddhist festival that is celebrated over three years. It is recognized as an official holiday in Myanmar and is known for water festival, a tradition of sprinkling celebrators with water. This is thought to clear someone of their sins. Over time, the tradition has evolved to include fully dousing friends and strangers in celebration.
In addition to the water festival, Thingyan is celebrated with large gatherings in the streets, something that is not usually allowed in these areas. New Year’s Day is typically spent paying respects to elders in order to gain good karma for the year ahead.
Songkran (Thai New Year)- April 13th
Songkran represents the official start of the New Year in Thailand. While the day always falls on April 13th, celebrations span a few days and citizens to travel to celebrate with family. The name of the holiday comes from its meaning of transformation or change, which is a concept we are all familiar with when it comes to New Years.
Songkran is celebrated from morning to night with visits to temples and water festivals, similar to the Burmese New Year. Like the Persian New Year, the holiday shares the belief that this day is meant for deep cleaning. While this version of New Years is mostly celebrated in Thailand, you can find many Thais in America celebrating as well.
Ugadi (Telugu and Kannada New Year)- Mid March - Mid April
Celebrated in Southern India, Ugadi is a New Year’s tradition filled with colorful decorations, charitable donations, and tons of festival food! Pachadi is traditionally the most notable dish consumed on Ugadi and consists of an impressive array of flavors, including sweet, sour, tangy, and bitter. This New Year’s celebration falls on April 13th, 2021.
Chol Chnam Thmey (Cambodian New Year)- April 13th - 15th
Chol Chnam Thmey is a three-day holiday celebrated primarily in Cambodia. Each of the three days serves a meaningful purpose. Starting on the first day of the Cambodian New Year, people gather at the pagoda to conduct a special ceremony. They come with fruits and incense and other offerings to present to Buddah. On day two, celebrators return to the pagoda with a rice offering for the monks and pray for good things to come. On the final day of Chol Chnam Thmey, celebrators will continue to praise Buddha by bathing his statue in perfumed water and making their offerings. At nightfall, traditions like releasing sky lanterns make for an exciting final event of the Cambodian New Year.
Navavarsha (Nepalese New Year) Mid April
Celebrated primarily in Nepal, Navavarsha is a time for religious festivities. The people of Nepal look forward to this holiday all year long. Colorful festivals and social gatherings bring the country together at the start of the Nepalese New Year celebration.
While people typically gather with friends for parties and picnics, this time of year is very important to many from a religious point of view. On the morning of the New yYear, Nepalese people will gather their offerings and head to the temple for Puja, the ritual of offering presents to their gods.
Aluth Avurudda (Sri Lankan New Year)- April 13th - 14th
In mid-April, Aluth Avurradda, also known as Sinhalese New Year, is celebrated across Sri Lanka. The holiday is kicked off at the sighting of the new moon and is celebrated publicly with traditions similar to the Cambodian and Nepalese New Year. The celebrations usually begin with a deep cleaning of the house and a gathering of family and friends. Rituals around Aluth Avurudda are not marked on a calendar but instead are determined by astrological calculations. While the rituals practiced are different depending on the region, one thing is universally recognized this time of year among the Sinhalese people and most Sri Lankans: the use of firecrackers. Once the rituals are done, people gather in the streets to welcome in the new year with plenty of fireworks.
Vaisakhi (Punjabi New Year)- Mid April
Also pronounced Baisakhi, this New Year’s holiday mostly takes place across the Punjabi region. This holiday takes place in mid-April in accordance with the Solar new year. Sikhs who observe Vaisakhi spend time visiting their places of worship, which are decorated for the occasion.
On this day, you can find parades, or Nagar Keertan, happening all over the world. Where celebrators are found, the streets will be filled with yellow and orange. These colors, like Vaisakhi itself, represent joy and celebration.
Raʼs as-Sanah al-Hijrīyah (Islamic New Year) Mid July- Mid August
Like many other New Year’s celebrations, the Islamic New Year is celebrated globally! Beginning anywhere between July and August, Raʼs as-Sanah al-Hijrīyah, which means head of the New Year, represents the very first day of the Islamic calendar. The day commemorates the migration of the prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina.
In 2021, this day of reflection will land on August 10th. While this is an important religious holiday, it does not hold the same amount of excitement as Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan fasting.
Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) September
Like Raʼs as-Sanah al-Hijrīyah, Rosh Hashanah is defined as “head of the year.” Unlike the Gregorian New Year, the Jewish New Year is a fall holiday, taking place during the Jewish month of Tishrei.
Rosh Hashanah is a two-day holiday that leads into Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, or Ten Days of Repentance. It is recognized as the day the world or humanity was created. During Rosh Hashanah observers are encouraged to try a new fruit, as well as attend religious worship in the synagogue and reflect on the past year.
Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year) September 11th- 12th
On September 11th, 2021, the Ethiopian New Year, or Enkutatash, will be celebrated in Ethiopia. The name Enkutatash means “gift of jewels.” The story of its origin dates back nearly 3,000 years and comes from a story about the Queen of Sheba mentioned in the Bible. Today, the day is celebrated with church services and family gatherings. Traditionally, children are also gifted small amounts of money!
Diwali (Indian New Year) Mid October- Mid November
In 2021, the Indian festival of lights will be celebrated on November 14th. Diwali is one of the most popular celebrations among Hindus but is celebrated by Jains and Sikhs too.
The holiday is most associated with the goddess Lakshmi, who is the goddess of beauty, wealth, and power. Other regions trace the holiday back to different gods and goddesses, such as Sita, Rama, and Vishnu. The festival of lights traditionally lasts five days and is filled with feasting with friends and family.
While our traditions vary around the world, one thing we can all agree on is that we’re ready for a New Year. However, it looks like some of us will have to wait longer than until January to celebrate new beginnings. Cheers to a fresh start in 2021!
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