So, you want to celebrate new year? Which new year?

[Note: I published this article on today's Brunei Times. It is a rehash of an earlier blog entry in 2007 if I am not mistaken and I wrote the full article for that and publish it in the New Year of 2008 for Brunei Times. I used that article as the basis for this one. Happy New Year 2011 to everyone.]


by Rozan Yunos

TODAY is the first day of 2011 AD. For those who did not know, AD stands for the Latin words "Anno Domini" or "the year of Our Lord" and as the Oxford Dictionary has pointed out AD refers to "the Christian Era". For those who prefer to use a non-religious connotation, they can use 2011 CE where CE referred to "Common Era".

Nowadays, the beginnings of the new years of the Common Era are celebrated generally. Many places have become unofficial centres. In London, it will be at Trafalgar Square where everyone will be counting down the last few seconds to the New Year; in New York, it will be at Times Square; in Barcelona, at the Gothic Quarter and Las Ramblas; at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin; at the Sydney Harbour just to name a few places around the world.

The modern New Year is often celebrated with the song "Auld Lang Syne" written by the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Singing the song on Hogmanay or New Year's Eve was originally a Scottish custom that spread to other parts of the British Isles. As they emigrated around the world, they took the song with them. Celebrating the coming of the new year is relatively recent.

In the middle ages, nobody celebrated. Even the church was against celebrating AD new years, calling it paganism.

It was not until only about 400 years ago that the beginning of the AD new years were celebrated. Even then and now, not everyone celebrated the same New Year. Celebrating the New Year depended on which religion or culture one belongs to.

The Muslims had just recently celebrated the New Year which was on 7 December to mark the first day of the Muharram and the new Hijrah year of 1432 but come 26 November, 2011, Muslims will be celebrating the new year of 1432. The Jews will celebrate their Rosh Hashanah to mark the new year of 5772 in September. The Chinese will be ushering in the Chinese New Year 4708, the year of the Rabbit, the Korean for their Seollal and the Vietnamese for the Tet not until 3 February, 2011.

The Sri Lankans will celebrate their Aluth Avurudhu and Puththandu in April and a host of other cultures will celebrate their new years at different times of the year Iran, 20 March for Nowruz (together with Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan); Tamil, 13 April for Vishu; Telugu, March for Ugadi; Thai (for Songkaran) and Cambodia (for Songkan) on 13 April; Bengali, 14 April for Pohela Baisakh; and Gujarats in October a day after the Diwali festival unlike all other Hindus who will celebrate the New Year on the Diwali itself.

In Europe, if you belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, the civil New Year falls on the Gregorian Calendar in 14 January which is actually 1 January of the Julian calendar. Many countries where Eastern Orthodoxy predominates such as Georgia, Jerusalem and Russia celebrate both the Gregorian and Julian New Year holidays, with the Gregorian day celebrated as a civic holiday and the Julian date as the a religious holiday.

If you study the history of the calendar, even celebrating the New Year on the first day of January is a bit off. The Gregorian calendar we are using today was based on the old Roman calendar and originally it only had 10 months December stands for the decimal 10 and the original months derived from Latin, hence September the seventh month; October the eighth month and November the ninth month. So New Year was in March!

However as the years went out of sync with the season, the months of January and February were added. Even this did not keep up and additional leap months were added from time to time to keep the calendar in sync with the four seasons.

In the older days, celebrating the New Year was not always done on 1 January. Some do it on 25 December (Christmas); some 25 March (Feast of Annunciation); some on the first Friday of April (Easter); some maintained it on 1 March as well as a number of other dates. Similar to today's multicultural and multi religion, the first of January does not always mark the beginning of the New Year.

It took more than 200 years for countries in Europe to synchronise the beginning of the new year. Venice did it in 1522, Sweden 1529, Germany 1544, Spain Portugal and Poland in 1555, Prussia, Denmark and Norway in 1559, France in 1564, Netherlands in 1576, Dutch in 1583, Scotland in 1600, Russia in 1700 and Britain in 1752.

Even as today when everyone accepted the first day of January as the beginning of the new year, there are parts of the world which is still on "last year". The world is now divided into time zones. The first day of the new year moves progressively from the International Date Line in the middle of the Pacific until it reached the that Date line again 24 hours later.

If you want to be the first to usher in the New Year, go to Caroline Island, part of Kiribati, a Pacific Ocean island nation while the rest of the world is still "last year".

That is the New Year. I will not say Happy New Year just yet. You could still be on last year's calendar. Or maybe I will wait and wish you the new year on 8 January or 4 February or any other days depending very much on who you are.

The Brunei Times, 1st January 2011


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