Happy New Year! Yet January First Wasn't Always So Special
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Millions of people are taking part in New Year's celebrations around the world. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Bob Doughty. We tell about some of these activities on this VOA Special English New Year's program.
People around the world celebrate the coming of a New Year. The celebrations include parties and religious observances. Many people take part in special activities said to bring good luck and success in the New Year.
Ancient Romans observed New Year's Day on March first. Later, Roman leaders made January first the beginning of the year. One thousand years ago, parts of Europe started the year on March twenty-fifth. By the year sixteen hundred, many European nations agreed on a new system to measure time. It is called the Gregorian calendar. This calendar moved New Year's Day to January first.
Today, Europeans have many ways to celebrate the New Year. Scotland has a famous celebration called Hogmanay. No one knows for sure where the word came from. It could be from the Anglo-Saxon words for "holy month." Another possibility is a Gaelic expression for "new morning." Some people think Hogmanay could be from an old French word meaning "gift." That is because it was common to give gifts at the new year.
For many centuries, fire ceremonies have been an important part of Hogmanay. The Scots set small fires as a way to end the old year.
Today, Hogmanay includes huge celebrations on the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh on New Year's Eve. More than one-hundred-thousand people attend these street parties. Bells ring at midnight. Everyone kisses each other and sings the traditional New Year's song Auld Lang Syne. Poet Robert Burns based some of the song's words on a Scottish poem.
Another tradition is called First Footing. Many Scots believe that the first person to enter your house in the New Year will bring either good or bad luck. A tall, dark-haired visitor who comes with a gift is considered very good luck.
January first is an important day in Greece. It is both the beginning of a New Year and Saint Basil's Day. Saint Basil was a leader of the early Greek Orthodox Church. Stories say he would come in the night and leave presents for children in their shoes. Many children leave their shoes out by the fireplace in the hope that Saint Basil will visit them.
In Greece, it is a New Year's tradition to serve Basil's Bread, or Vassilopitta. A piece of money is added to the bread before it is baked. When the bread is ready, it is divided in a traditional way. The first piece is cut for Saint Basil. The next goes to the oldest person in the house. Everyone is served, from the oldest to the youngest. Whoever finds the money in their piece of bread will have luck during the New Year.
Other European countries have New Year's traditions. In Belgium, for example, children write messages to their parents on colorful pieces of paper. The children read the messages to their families on New Year's Day.
In Spain, everyone must have at least twelve grapes ready on the final day of the year. One grape represents each month in the year. As the New Year begins, a person puts a grape in his or her mouth each time the clock rings. Each piece of fruit is said to bring good luck and happiness in the New Year.
The New Year is celebrated in a big way in Japan. Japanese people often begin by cleaning their homes in late December. Some people hang long ropes across the front of their home. This is supposed to keep bad spirits away.
Many Japanese people visit a Buddhist religious center, or shrine. Some people wear traditional Japanese clothing. Bells at Shinto shrines ring one hundred eight times. A traditional story says that there are one hundred eight desires in every person. The story says that people can clean their hearts by listening to the bells ringing.
Shrines in Japan offer visitors a small piece of white paper. Each has a message about what will happen to that person in the future. Many people tie the paper to a tree near the shrine.
January first is a special day for children because they often receive money from their parents. New Year's greeting cards are another popular tradition. Millions of people write and send these cards to friends in December. Japan's mail service works to guarantee that all the letters arrive by January first.
Not all countries celebrate the New Year at the same time. This is because people in different areas have different ways to measure time. Some systems are based on the movement of the moon. Others are based on the position of the sun. Still others are based on both the sun and the moon.
Like much of Asia, Korea has two New Year celebrations. One is on January first. The other is on the first day of the Lunar New Year. The Lunar New Year begins on the day of the first new moon of the new year. The first day of the Lunar New Year is called Sol-nal (sole-lahl). Sol-nal has many special meanings and events. It is a day for family members to re-unite.
On the day before Sol-nal, Koreans place objects made of grass on their doors and walls. This is supposed to protect their families from evil spirits in the New Year. Some families attend a bell-ringing ceremony.
Many Koreans make wishes for the New Year while watching the sunrise. Some wear traditional clothing. Family members gather early in the morning to remember their ancestors. After the observance, they eat a kind of rice cake soup. Koreans believe that eating this food will add an extra year to their life.
After the meal, young people lower their heads to honor their parents and older adults. This means good health and good wishes. Many parents give the children money.
Vietnam's New Year is officially known as Tet Nguyen Dan, or Tet. It begins between January twenty-first and February nineteenth. The exact date changes from year to year.
Tet lasts ten days. The first three days are the most important. Vietnamese people believe that how people act during those days will influence the whole year. As a result, they make every effort to avoid arguments and smile as much as possible.
Many Vietnamese people prepare for the holiday by paying their debts and cleaning their homes. Some people believe that different gods live in their homes. They say these gods watch over and protect family members.
Just before the first day of Tet, the mother or grandmother in each family lights a firecracker. This is done to welcome the New Year. Then people go to sleep and wait for the sun to rise. At sunrise, they get up and put on new clothes. Rice cake is a popular New Year's food.
Like people in Scotland, Vietnamese people believe that the first person through the door on New Year's Day brings either good or bad luck. Children receive gifts of money, as they do in other countries. Some Vietnamese families give money or other gifts to visitors during the holiday.
British Columbia, Canada has an interesting New Year's tradition. People of all ages put on swimwear and dive into the icy waters of English Bay, near Vancouver. The yearly event is called the Polar Bear Swim. It is named for the large, white animals native to northern Canada. The Polar Bear Swim started about eighty years ago. Today, the event has grown to more than two thousand divers. Thousands of other people watch the event.
In Brazil, New Year celebrations also involve water. But it is the warm water of the Atlantic Ocean. Millions of people go to the beach on New Year's Eve to watch fireworks. They wear white clothes to welcome the New Year and to bring good luck. Some people jump over the waves and throw flowers into the water while they make wishes for the New Year. Others light candles on the beach.
However you choose to celebrate the holiday, we in Special English wish all our listeners a Happy New Year!
This VOA Special English New Year's program was written and produced by George Grow. This is Sarah Long. And this is Bob Doughty.