Traditionally, this is the time of new beginnings. Throughout the world, those who track time with a solar calendar, turn the page from the year of pasts to the unknown future. People look at this time in two very opposite ways. Some throw off the failures of the past with a hopeful eye toward second chances. Others view the future with fear and trepidation.
Most of the world’s cultures celebrate a form of holiday on January 1. But there are major cultures, both past and present, which celebrate a new year at a different time from the first of the year. The Chinese observe Spring Festival. It is known as the Lunar New Year. The accompanying festival is fifteen days long. The Lunar New Year is the most important holiday of the Chinese culture.
Oshogatsu is the Japanese New Year. Originally, it was a Lunar New Year. Many of the people in rural Japan still follow a lunar calendar. It was in 1873, when Japan accepted a solar calendar and began to celebrate on January 1. The New Year is about firsts, or new beginnings. Although on the evening before, they are reminded of the previous years hardships.
The celebration of the New Year is one of the oldest of holidays. The ancient Babylonians celebrated a Lunar New Year. It began with the first New Moon. It would seem that the first New Moon of spring is the perfect place to begin the New Year. New beginnings, longer days, planting of new crops, and the blossoming of trees is the backdrop for this special remembrance of the passing of time. On the other hand, January 1 is just an arbitrary designation with no special significance. The Romans also celebrated the New Year in March until they decided to synchronize their solar calendar to begin the New Year on January 1. The Romans continued to tinker with their calendar until Julius Caesar formalized it in 46 BC with the Julian calendar. The Romans continued to celebrate the New Year. The early church condemned this revelry. According to them, it was pagan. But they attempted to use this holiday for their own benefit, calling it the celebration of the circumcision of the Christ. The Church opposed this holiday during the Middle Ages. The West has celebrated New Years Day as a holiday for the last 400 years.
There are many practices, which come from traditions all over the world and at different times. The Babylonians gave us the art of the resolution. Their most frequent resolution was to return farm equipment. The Greeks and Egyptians first used a baby in concert with the idea of rebirth in the New Year. Revelers have always sought better luck during this celebration. If a tall dark-haired man was the first visitor of the New Year, this was a reason for hope in the coming days. Certain cultures made sure they ate certain foods for a better tomorrow. The Dutch saw a circle as a good luck symbol. They ate donuts for a New Year’s meal. Black-eyed peas are thought to bring good fortune. The ham, or hog jowls for seasoning, is eaten for prosperity. Cabbage symbolizes money, which is hoped for in the near future. Some regions eat rice for good luck.
Many other traditions have come and gone over the centuries around this holiday. One would think that with all the kissing going on at parties, they are kissing the old year goodbye. Or, with so many having a propensity to “the drink” on New Year’s Eve, they are probably trying to forget the old year. Another custom is the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, California. It began in 1886 to celebrate the orange crop. The Rose Bowl football game became a part of the festivities in 1902 only to be replaced with Roman chariot races the following year. The game returned in 1916.
As it has been stated, there are many different New Year celebrations all over the world; most of these are limited to specific nations. One New Year celebration that goes beyond national boundaries is the Hebrew New Year. It is culture specific, but specifically religious, no matter the branch of Jewish worship. Known as Rosh Hashanah, it is also called “The Feast of Trumpets.” This day marks a spiritual new beginning. This day is the beginning of the seventh month of the Hebrew Calendar. Usually this day falls sometime within the month of September of the Gregorian calendar. Since the Hebrew calendar is a lunar one, the month begins with every new moon.
There are some significant beliefs that find their center on this special day. It is believed that the counting of years began with creation. The New Year begins with the anniversary of God’s creative act. Martha Zimmerman, in her book Celebrating Biblical Feasts, gives a summary about the 10 special days that follow.
'It is the beginning of ten days called the High Holy Days, or the Days of Awe. Because of their meaning these days are also called Days of Repentance, Days of Admitting, and Days of Returning. The observance concludes with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, it is traditional to go to a body of water for the observance of Tashlich. This could be considered the resolution part of Rosh Hashanah. This action includes the collecting of stones to be designated as sins and failures in the approach to God. They are thrown into the water as an act of repentance. They trust that God will never remember these again for they are out of sight forever.
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. Rosh Hashanah begins the special days. Yom Kippur brings them to an end. The sound of the trumpet begins the New Year. The final day finds the Jew standing before God, confessing, and admitting sins. According to the Talmud, three books of accounting are opened on Rosh Hashanah. In these books are recorded the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of another class whose fate is not yet sealed. The righteous are sealed in the book of life. The intermediate are given until Yom Kippur to repent. The names of the wicked are erased out of the book of the living.
One can immediately recognize two important Bible verses in the above beliefs. The act of Tashlich is a human observation of what God does when He forgives us. In the Book of Micah there is a sentence, which says that God will hurl our sins into the sea. The real act of resolving our position with God is shown as an act of God not a resolution to change. The other verse of interest is found in the Book of revelation. If a person overcomes through belief and acceptance of the Christ will not have his name blotted out of the book of life.
As we come through this special time of year, maybe, just maybe, it can be seen not as an opportunity to rehash old mistakes. Come on. Admit it. We make the same pledges every year. Not a one of those are kept. But when it comes to a true new beginning, the lessons of the Jewish New Year are there as a lesson from God through the culture of His people for His people. Instead of deciding what not to eat, or taking actions for prosperity, we can turn to God and resolve to follow the Christ.