For many, a new year symbolizes a fresh start — hope, faith and possibilities.

Celebrating a new year is an ancient tradition. Initially, humans associated a new year with planting. Ancient Greeks began their new year on the first new moon after the summer solstice, according to “Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion.”

The Julian calendar fixed New Year’s Day at Jan. 1 in 45 BCE, but the change didn’t take widespread effect for hundreds of years.

The Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages set the new year at March 25 to coincide with the Feast of the Annunciation and convert pagans to the faith.

Our nation’s practice of starting the year on Jan. 1 dates to 1750, when England and its colonies moved to the Gregorian calendar, according Connecticut State Library archives.

As people spread out to other areas of the increasingly known world, we adopted, adapted and created customs.

Some incorporated traditions into Jan. 1 observances. Others retained their own, such as the Russian Orthodox Church, Iran and Vietnam.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, typically takes place in autumn. It tips off the High Holy Days, a time of introspection, atonement and preparation.

During Thailand’s Songkran (April 13 through 15), people tie strings around each other’s wrists as a show of respect, writes author Khiew Wan Wongsawat. A person can accumulate dozens of strings, and they’re supposed to be left until they fall off naturally.

Chinese New Year is another well-known observance. It follows a lunar calendar, so it usually falls in January or February.

Some ancient lunar calendars spread out new year observances. In Islam, the new year begins on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the year in the Muslim lunar calendar.

Our common Jan. 1 observance mirrors others in that it includes parties, music, parades, fireworks, ringing church bells and more. To make merry and eye a new year with a hopeful heart has deep and varied religious foundations.

There are our superstitions. One Irish custom would have us bang bread against the walls to send bad luck packing. In Johannesburg, South Africa, residents of the Hillbrow neighborhood might even throw furniture from their windows to clean out the old year, according to National Public Radio.

Revelers in Scotland celebrate “Hogmanay” on New Year’s Eve, an ancient Gaelic tradition. At this time, it’s good luck for a tall, dark man to enter your home for the first time after midnight, writes Hugh Douglas in “The Hogmanay Companion.” If this man brings you coal, whiskey, salt, shortbread or another of traditional gift, so much the better.

Meanwhile, those seeking happiness or love in Lima, Peru, might wear yellow or red underwear, respectively, on New Year’s Eve, notes Maria Fe Martinez of the Spanish-language podcast, “Radio Ambulante.”

A new year also is a time for meditation and reflection. For example, New Year’s resolutions probably originated 4,000 years ago, writes Sarah Pruitt. During the Babylonian festival of Akitu, they made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return borrowed objects.

We also mark the time with fellowship and significant foods. Eating 12 grapes as the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve is an important Spanish tradition. This symbolizes 12 lucky months ahead, according to Food Republic.

In the southern United States, those seeking good fortune might dine on black-eyed peas, collard greens, pork and cornbread at the stroke of 12, according to the Spruce Eats lifestyle blog. Peas and greens symbolize wealth; pork, prosperity; and cornbread, gold.

Karris Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at onfaith@karrisgolden.com.


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