Here in the United States, we typically follow the Gregorian calendar. December 31 marks the end of the old year, and January 1 is the beginning of the New Year. We here in South Dakota are some of those people. However, it seems that around the world, there are many different celebrations for New Year’s, sometimes on January 1 and sometimes not.
I explored some of the New Year’s customs around the world including Burma, Japan, Ukraine, Sudan, and Mexico. Here are a few of the things that I found.
In Burma (Myanmar), people follow the Burmese calendar, a form of lunisolar calendar, and traditionally the New Year for Burma falls in April during the Thingyan Festival. The festival lasts for 5 days and during the first 4 days, people try to douse each other in water. This Buddhist festival corresponds with many New Year’s celebrations throughout Asia.
According to Burmese belief, the water will cleanse the body, mind, and spirit from the previous year’s bad luck. The people enjoy the refreshing water, too, as April is very hot in Burma.
In Japan, families end the year by eating toshikoshi (soba noodles). The long buckwheat noodles are said to give longevity. Noodles are served with fresh vegetables and tempura shrimp. Just remember to finish all your noodles before midnight to avoid bad luck!
For those who are Buddhist in Japan, the Joya no Kane ritual is performed. The Buddhist temples strike the temple bell 108 times on New Year’s Eve. This symbolizes purification of the old year’s sins in preparation of the New Year.
In the morning, it is said to bring good luck if one watches the new rising sun and says a prayer. Later that morning, toast with sake for good health, and then spend the day feasting, playing games, giving the children money, and having an overall great New Year!
In Ukraine, the Julian calendar was followed before the Gregorian calendar became popularized. Because of this, many Ukrainians still follow the Julian calendar. Jan 1 on the Julian calendar falls on January 14 in the Gregorian calendar. Ukraine typically celebrates the New Year’s over a week’s period of time, January 7 to 14, with lots of music, festivals, plays, and outdoor activities in the snow including sleigh rides.
In Sudan where the Islamic religion is primary, the New Year’s is celebrated not in January but rather in August. The actual date will vary each year according to the cycle of the moon, but the date ultimately corresponds to the prophet Mohammed fleeing from Mecca to Medina. In 2020, New Year’s Day will be August 20. Because New Year’s is linked to a religious event, it is considered a time to fast, pray, and be kind to each other by avoiding fights and other sins, and ultimately is a quiet time for reflection.
My Sudanese students have shared with me in the past that a typical meal for them on New Year’s was fresh ox with chili sauce. Everyone from the village came together to slaughter the ox, eat, and celebrate the New Year together.
Interestingly, January 1 is an official holiday in Sudan as it is the Sudanese Independence Day; so many people will celebrate the day after all.
In Mexico, warm weather encourages people to celebrate New Year’s outdoor with barbeques and fireworks. A typical traditional New Year’s meal starts around 8 p.m. The family enjoys tamales and pozole (pork and bean stew) and drinks atole (a hot drink consisting of masa, cane sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes chocolate). Afterwards, there are bonfires in the street and fireworks.
Some families like to hang a piñata, and the entire family from the youngest to the oldest try to break the piñata blindfolded until all the candy falls out. Interestingly, the points on the piñata represent the 7 cardinal sins, and the candy represents the good that triumphs over evil.
So whatever you might plan on doing this year for New Year’s, consider adding in a new tradition…perhaps going outside in the freezing cold and throwing water at each other is not a good idea in South Dakota, but you surely you could ring a bell, eat tamales, and enjoy a good sleigh ride!
Happy New Year! Here’s to 2020!
Written by Heather Glidewell | LSS Center for New Americans | Adult ESL Instructor
300 East 6th Street, Suite 100 | Sioux Falls, SD 57103