New Year's Day

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New Year's Day,

among ancient peoples the first day of the year frequently corresponded to the vernal or autumnal equinox, or to the summer or winter solstice. In the Middle Ages it was celebrated among Christians usually on Mar. 25. After the adoption of the Gregorian calendar that began in 1582, the day was observed on the first of January. The Jewish New Year is the first day of Tishri, which falls some time in September or in early October. The Chinese New Year (between Jan. 10 and Feb. 19 of the Gregorian calendar) is the most important of their festivals. The Muslim New Year falls on the first day of Muharram.
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New Year's Day

In many places people begin their New Year's celebrations on New Year's Eve. Oftentimes these celebrations include staying up to ring in the new year. These late-night festivities frequently involve food, drink, fortune-telling, good-luck charms, games - especially games of chance - and, at the stroke of midnight, noisemaking. Exchanging well-wishes for the year ahead is another widespread New Year's Eve and New Year's Day practice (for the phrase "Happy New Year" in avariety of languages, see Merry Christmas and Happy New Year). The passing of the old year and the beginning of the new one inevitably call attention to the passing of time, represented by the popular European and American New Year's symbols Father Time and the New Year's baby.

In Europe fortune-telling was once a widespread New Year's Eve custom. People used a wide variety of rituals and spells in order to divine who would marry, who would prosper, who would endure hardship, and who would die in the coming year. Lithuanian folklore provided young people with many formulas for discovering the name of an admirer or a future spouse. Many people continue to use these old folk charms as New Year's Eve games.

In many countries folklore decrees that certain objects or activities bring luck for the new year. In a number of European countries people practice firstfooting, a custom whereby the household's luck for the year is determined by the first person to step over the threshold after the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve. In Germany folk tradition teaches that people who encounter a pig or a chimney sweep on New Year's Eve or Day will have luck in the year to come. In the Philippines, round objects - from the polka dots on clothing to round-shaped foods - bring luck on New Year's Eve. In Greece, St. Basil's bread confers good fortune to those who consume it at the start of the year (for more on New Year's in Greece, see St. Basil's Day). In Spain eating twelve grapes in the last twelve seconds of the old year brings sweetness and good fortune in the new year. One widespread folk belief asserts that events taking place on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day foretell future trends. Thus people refrain from hard work and hope for good weather and good news during these crucial first hours of the new year. Some Americans practice the custom of kissing their spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend at midnight on New Year's Eve, presumably as a good-luck charm to insure that love and passion will continue throughout the year.

In some places, such as Syria, Greece, and Lebanon, seasonal gifts are exchanged on New Year's Day (for a twentieth-century New Year'sgift bringer, see Grandfather Frost). This custom was once widespread in Europe and America, but shifted in the nineteenth century, when Christmas became the occasion for gift giving among friends and family.

Roman New Year Celebrations

Many contemporary New Year's celebrations, with their emphasis on fun and carousing, bear a striking resemblance to those hosted by the ancient Romans (for another ancient New Year's celebration, see Zagmuk). The Romans celebrated their new year holiday, called Kalends, by feasting, singing, drinking, staying up late, masquerading, gambling, gift giving, fortune-telling, and exchanging good wishes for the new year. What's more, after the institution of the Julian calendar in 45 B . C ., the Romans shifted their new year celebrations from March 25 to January 1, a date we eventually inherited from them (for more on the Julian calendar, see Old Christmas Day).

Medieval New Year Celebrations

Although early Christian authorities chose to place Christmas between Saturnalia, a Roman midwinter festival, and Kalends, the Roman new year celebration, they strongly disapproved of the customs associated with these holidays. For centuries Church officials urged their followers to abandon what they viewed as the riotous pagan practices attached to these festivals. In 567 the second provincial Council of Tours tried to counteract the still-popular Kalends festivities by ordering Christians to fast and do penance during the first few days of the new year. At the same time, however, they expanded Christmas from a feast day to a season. They declared the days that fall between Christmas and Epiphany to be a festal tide - a period of special observance and rejoicing following an important feast day. These twelve days, often called Christmastide, became better known as the Twelve Days of Christmas. Since this new festive period now included January 1, practices associated with the Roman new year could easily attach themselves to the Christmas season. In the seventh century Church officials made a new effort to reclaim the January 1 holiday from pagan celebrations. They introduced a new Christian holy day, the Feast of the Circumcision, to be celebrated on January 1.

In spite of opposition from Church officials the customs surrounding Kalends lingered on long after Christianity had become the dominant religion in Europe. Religious authorities disapproved of some of these customs more than others, however. For instance, they vehemently denounced masquerades, fortune-telling, excessive drinking, and boisterous behavior in the streets. One researcher has counted at least forty separate documents containing official denunciations of midwinter masquerades. These documents range in dates from the fourth to the eleventh centuries and come from Church authorities in many European lands as well as north Africa and the Near East.

Nevertheless, these criticisms do not appear to have affected ordinary people very much. Medieval new year celebrations continued as fun-filled occasions. Though officially a religious observance, lively folk customs marked the celebration of St. Sylvester's Day, also scheduled for January 1. In some countries low-ranking clerics let loose by observing the Feast of Fools on that same date.

In spite of Church denunciations of the magical practices associated with Christmas and New Year's Day, European folklorists have recorded a multitude of popular beliefs concerning fortune-telling and good-luck charms linked to the Twelve Days of Christmas. One such fortune-telling custom, called firstfooting, was particularly associated with New Year's Eve. Religious authorities appear to have ignored New Year's customs which they viewed as more benign, however, such as feasting and gift giving. Indeed, these two Kalends customs flourished in medieval new year celebrations.

New Year Customs Migrate to Christmas

Some researchers believe that a number of ancient new year customs survived the decline of paganism by simply attaching themselves to the Christmas holiday. For example, many writers trace the decoration of homes and churches with greenery back to Roman new year celebrations. Exchanging greetings and good wishes for the new year also dates back to Roman times. Some researchers speculate that late medieval Christmas masques and mumming practices may have represented the remnants of Roman new year masquerades.

The Puritans and the Protestant Reformation

In the sixteenth century a religious reform movement surged across Europe giving birth to Protestant Christianity. In England during that same century, a new body of religious officials began to complain about the high incidence of masking, mumming, drinking, feasting, dancing, gambling, and gaming associated with the Christmas season. These officials, members of a Protestant religious sect known as the Puritans, attempted to eradicate these practices by outlawing the celebration of Christmas. What's more, they argued, New Year's Eve was better spent in self-examination and prayer than in hard drinking and rowdy revelry.

After the Puritans fell from power the English returned to many of their old Christmas customs. The people of Scotland, however, took many of the Puritan criticisms of Christmas to heart and never really revived their old Christmas celebrations. Instead New Year's Day became the main midwinter holiday (for more on New Year's celebra-tions in Scotland, see Hogmanay). In fact, Christmas didn't again become a legal holiday in Scotland until 1958. The Scots referred to New Year's Day as "Hogmanay," a word of uncertain origins. Linguists suspect that it evolved from the old French term aguillaneuf, which means New Year's gift, the last day of the year, or the celebration at which New Year's gifts are exchanged. A related Spanish word, aguilnaldo, means Christmas tip, New Year's gift, or, in Latin America, Christmas carol (see also Boxing Day).

Changing Dates

Before the introduction of the Julian calendar in 46 began their new year in March. Some scholars believe that they celebrated New Year's Day on March 25. When Julius Caesar (100 B . C .) decided to reform the Roman calendar system (resulting in the Julian calendar), he moved New Year's Day to January 1. According to the Julian calendar, winter solstice fell on December 25 and spring equinox fell on March 25. These two dates eventually became feast days in the Christian calendar. Church officials placed the Feast of the Nativity on December 25 and the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25. During the Middle Ages the religious significance of the Annunciation inclined many European countries to begin the new year on that date. Others began their new year on Christmas Day. In spite of the widespread official recognition of March 25 as New Year's Day, many ordinary people continued the ancient tradition of ushering in the new year on January 1.

When Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585) authorized the Gregorian calendar reform in 1582 he ordered the official observance of New Year's Day back to January 1 (see also Old Christmas Day). Italy, France, Luxembourg, Spain, and Portugal switched to the new calendar system in that same year. Other European nations dawdled over making this change, primarily for religious reasons. Many Protestant nations hesitated to adopt the calendar for fear of seeming to accept the authority of the Pope. Much of Orthodox eastern Europe viewed the proposed changes as out of step with their religious traditions. Nevertheless, over the next several centuries the European nations slowly began to adopt the Gregorian date for the beginning of the new year. Scotland switched New Year's Day to January 1 in 1660, Protestant Germany in 1700, and Russia in 1706. England and her colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752. Up until that time their new year officially began on March 25, in spite of the fact that many people actually celebrated the holiday on January 1.

From the Puritans to the Nineteenth Century

In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe and America, New Year's Eve celebrations still bore a good deal of resemblance to the Roman holiday of Kalends. Many people celebrated the holiday by staying up late in order to indulge in some combination of heavy drinking, public carousing, gaming, masquerading, gambling, feasting, fortune-telling, or dancing. The Puritan campaign against this kind of New Year's celebration - a continuation of the critique launched centuries ago by the early Christians - enjoyed only limited success, mostly among devout Protestants. By the nineteenth century, however, some concerned Protestants began to promote alternative methods of celebrating New Year's Eve. They gathered together at Watch Night services to pray, sing, and worship. They also formed spiritual resolutions at the start of the year.

In the nineteenth century, Christmas was becoming an increasingly important holiday (see also America, Christmas in NineteenthCentury). As a result, several ancient New Year's customs migrated towards Christmas and eventually attached themselves to this holiday. People began to send Christmas cards to one another, a greeting that often replaced the New Year's letter, visit, or formal exchange of good wishes. Similarly, the New Year's gift, which had been associated with the holiday since Roman times, transferred itself to Christmas. As Christmas grew in importance, New Year's was drawn into its orbit, becoming a satellite observance surrounding the emerging, major midwinter holiday.

Twentieth Century and Beyond

Meanwhile, in Soviet Russia (1917-91), government policy turned New Year's Day into the major midwinter holiday. The government actively discouraged the celebration of Christmas because it was a religious holiday, while promoting the observance of New Year's Eve and Day. This policy also affected holiday celebrations in countries under Soviet rule, such as Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Soviet officials even tried to encourage the transfer of popular Christmas customs, such as decorating Christmas trees, to New Year's. Since the fall of the Soviet regime in 1991, people have been celebrating Christmas more openly.

In America, Watch Night services declined in popularity throughout the twentieth century. Certain Protestant churches, however, especially those whose congregations are composed mostly of African Americans, still host these observances. By the twentieth century the custom of making a New Year's resolution had spread beyond pious Protestant circles into the wider culture, losing its religious associations in the process. People began to mark the start of the new year with a determined effort to improve themselves in some way, often to better their health.

In the late twentieth century, yet another campaign to convert traditional New Year's celebrations got started. Unlike previous efforts, however, this one was secular rather than religious in nature. In 1976 a group of Boston citizens organized an alternative New Year's Eve celebration called First Night. This civic event, designed as an alcohol-free, family-oriented celebration, featured entertainment by local performing artists. Its success led to its eventual adoption by over 150 American cities, as well as various cities abroad.

Nevertheless, most Americans continue to associate New Year's Eve with parties. The nation's best-known party takes place in New York City's Times Square. Although event organizers will not permit those attending the Times Square event to carry in liquor, alcoholic beverages, especially champagne, are common at most American New Year's Eve parties. Singing the Scottish song "Auld Lang Syne" has also become a popular American New Year's Eve custom.

New Year's Day is a national holiday in the United States. Some African Americans also observe it as Emancipation Day. Those who attended late-night parties the night before may take advantage of the opportunity to sleep in. Many Americans watch televised football matches on New Year's Day. These "bowl" games mark the conclusion of the college football season and pit the best teams in the various conferences against one another.

Many southerners, especially African Americans, enjoy a dish called hopping John on New Year's Day. Eating this mixture of black-eyed peas, rice, and pork on New Year's Day is said to bring luck for the coming year.

Further Reading

Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. Second edition. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, 1998. Edwards, Gillian. Hogmanay and Tiffany, The Names of Feasts and Fasts. London, England: Geoffrey Bles, 1970. Gaster, Theodor. New Year, Its History, Customs, and Superstitions. New York: Abelard-Schuman, 1955. Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1996. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythol-ogy, and Legend. San Francisco, Calif.: Harper and Row, 1984. Miles, Clement A. Christmas in Ritual and Tradition. 1912. Reprint. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, 1990. Muir, Frank. Christmas Customs and Traditions. New York: Taplinger, 1977.
Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations, 2nd ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003

New Year's Day

Type of Holiday: Calendar/Seasonal
Date of Observation: January 1
Where Celebrated: Australia, British Isles, North and South America, Europe, Scandinavia, and in all countries using the Gregorian calendar
Symbols and Customs: Baby, First-footing, Football Games, Gifts, Pig, Resolutions
Related Holidays: Chinese New Year, Dewali, Hogmanay, Nawruz, New Year's Eve, Oshogatsu, Rosh Hashanah, Saturnalia, Sol, Songkran, Tet ORIGINS

Celebrating the first day of the year on January 1 is a relatively modern practice. Up until the time of Julius Caesar, the Romans generally celebrated New Year's Day in March, the first month of the Roman year. January 1 marked the beginning of the civil year for the ancient Romans, a time when new consuls were inducted into office. Although there were games and feasting at this time, March 1 was still observed as New Year's Day with a festival to Mars, the Roman god of war.

Caesar changed the Roman New Year's Day to January 1 in honor of Janus, the god of all beginnings and the keeper of the gates of heaven and earth. Janus was always represented with two faces, one looking back to the old year and the other looking forward to the new year. It was customary to celebrate the festival in his honor by exchanging GIFTS and making RESOLUTIONS to be friendly and good to one another.

When the Romans under Constantine accepted Christianity as their new faith, they retained the Festival of Janus as their New Year's Day but turned it into a day of fasting and prayer. It was a time for all good Christians to turn over a new leaf, but not all Christians observed it. Even after the Gregorian calendar was adopted by Roman Catholic countries in 1582, Great Britain and the English colonies in America continued to begin the year in March. It wasn't until 1752 that Britain and its possessions adopted the so-called New Style calendar (Gregorian) and accepted January 1 as the beginning of the year. But among the Puritans in New England, the old associations with the pagan god Janus were offensive enough to persuade many of them to ignore the day altogether and refer to January simply as "First Month."

The Gregorian calendar is named after Pope Gregory XIII, who in 1582 instituted a calendar that corrected time-keeping errors in Julius Caesar's Julian calendar, which had been in use since 45 B . C . E . In 1852 the Gregorian calendar subtracted ten days from the month of October so that October 6 was instead October 15. This shift brought the calendar more in line with the seasons. It also created Leap Year Day and established January 1 as the day of the new year throughout the Christian world. Catholic countries such as Italy, France, Luxembourg, Spain, and Portugal switched to the new calendar that year. Other European nations, predominantly Protestant or Orthodox, did not. Protestant Germany accepted the change in 1700, Orthodox Russia in 1706. Great Britain accepted the Gregorian calendar, and the New Year on January 1, in 1752. By the twentieth century most of the world had accepted the Gregorian calendar for civic and business purposes.

Today, New Year's Day is geared toward feasting and family. Almost everywhere it is a day for receiving visitors (see FIRST FOOTING ) and recovering from NEW YEAR'S EVE festivities. Watching FOOTBALL GAMES is often part of the day.

January 1st is also known as Emancipation Day. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation to free slaves in states and parts of states "in rebellion aganst the United States." The Emancipation Proclamation became effective on January 1, 1863. After the signing of the proclamation, Emancipation Day was observed on January 1 in many areas of the United States. Emancipation celebrations began to diminish by the 1950s and 1960s, when the emphasis was on gaining civil rights and equality. When Emancipation Day is observed today, parades and speeches highlight the importance of freedom.



Just as the old man is a traditional symbol of the year that is ending, the image of the newborn baby is both a religious symbol of the Christ Child as well as a secular symbol of rebirth and renewal at the beginning of a new year. The "New Year Baby" that appears on holiday greeting cards and in New Year's decorations is usually a playful rather than a solemn child and is often shown wearing a party hat.


Many modern New Year's Day customs originated in Scotland and England. Firstfooting is a good example. It is still observed in Scotland, where a family's fortunes in the coming year are believed to be influenced by the first guest who sets foot in the door after the New Year strikes. If it's a woman, a light-haired man, an undertaker, or anyone who walks with his toes pointing inward, it is considered a bad omen. A dark-haired man, on the other hand, brings good luck. In some villages, dark-haired men hire themselves out as professional first-footers whose job it is to go from house to house immediately after the New Year arrives. Female first-footers are considered to be such bad luck that male restaurant owners will sometimes make a point of opening the restaurant themselves before the waitresses arrive on New Year's Day.

Just as it is bad luck for a fair-haired or red-haired person to "let in" the New Year, there are folk beliefs surrounding what the first-footer brings with him or her. When entering the house, he or she must bring a handsel-a piece of bread, an orange, or an ear of corn carried in his or her hand for good luck. Sometimes the first footer brings cheese or cakes to share with the family being visited. The Scottish name for New Year's Eve is HOGMANAY, and one of the traditional foods shared with the first footer is Hogmanay shortbread, baked in the shape of a sun- perhaps a survival of pagan sun worship at the WINTER SOLSTICE.

The Dutch who came to settle in New York introduced the custom of making calls on New Year's Day, and by the 1840s, visiting on New Year's Day was a widespread practice among the middle classes in America. Gentlemen arrived with engraved calling cards, and women set out beautifully decorated tables full of food and served coffee or whiskey punch. This custom continues in the popular "open house" parties held on New Year's today.

Football Games

Perhaps no pastime is as closely identified with New Year's Day in the United States as watching football games on television-especially the ROSE BOWL game in Pasadena, California; the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas; the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Louisiana; and the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida. In many homes, having friends over to watch football has replaced the more social visits paid on this day in past centuries.


The ancient Romans exchanged gifts on New Year's Day-usually coins bearing the portrait of the two-faced god, Janus. These gifts were called strenae, a name that survives in the French word étrennes, meaning New Year's presents. They were the precursor to our modern CHRISTMAS presents, and they were based on the belief that acting wealthy (i.e., by spending money on gifts) would attract good financial luck in the coming year. Feasting and drinking were popular for the same reason, serving as a kind of charm to guarantee abundance. In fact, many of the customs now associated with New Year's Day were based on the principle that whatever happened on the first day of the year would affect one's fortunes throughout the year.

Although gift-giving at New Year's is rare in the United States, it remains popular in France, Italy, and some other European countries.


Roast pork or suckling pig is a favorite dish to serve at New Year's dinner. The pig is a symbol of good luck in many countries. But in this case the custom arose because the pig roots in a forward direction, making it an apt symbol of a prosperous future. Eating turkey, goose, or any other fowl is equivalent to inviting bad luck, since all fowl scratch backward in their search for food.


Ancient peoples indulged themselves in alcoholic and sexual excess at New Year's as a way of acting out the chaos that they hoped the new year would banish. The New Year's festival was an attempt to start over, and it was customary to purge oneself of excess energy and to confess one's sins in the hope that the New Year would somehow be different. The Puritans, who were never in favor of New Year's revelry, thought that this was a good time for religious renewal and spiritual resolve. They urged young people not to waste the holiday on vain and foolish amusements but to make New Year's an occasion for changing the way they lived their lives. Like Christians elsewhere, they often made New Year's vows or pledges designed to conquer their own weaknesses, to capitalize on their God-given talents, or to make themselves more useful to others.

The custom of making more secular New Year's resolutions came into vogue at the turn of the twentieth century. People started promising to be more moderate in their eating and drinking habits and to patch up their quarrels with friends, family, and business associates. But it was always understood that most of these vows would not be kept-at least not for long-since humans were backsliders by nature.

The New Year's resolutions that are so widely encouraged and talked about today are a secularized version of the vows that more religious individuals once made in their never-ending journey toward spiritual perfection. Although often made with the best of intentions, such pledges are rarely carried out and must be renewed on an annual basis.


Gaer, Joseph. Holidays Around the World. Boston: Little, Brown, 1953. Gay, Kathlyn. African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2007. Gulevich, Tanya. Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations. 2nd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2003. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. Kachun, Mitch. Festivals of Freedom: Memory and Meaning in African-American Eman- cipation Celebrations. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003. Miles, Clement A. Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan. 1912. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Purdy, Susan. Festivals for You to Celebrate. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1969. Santino, Jack. All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994. Schmidt, Leigh Eric. Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995. Scullard, H. H. Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. The Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Tuleja, Tad. Curious Customs: The Stories Behind 296 Popular American Rituals. New York: Harmony, 1987. Wiggins, William H. Jr. O Freedom! Afro-American Emancipation Celebrations. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000.


New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia

"The African-American Mosaic: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History and Culture"

"The Slave Experience: Freedom and Emancipation," part of PBS online exhibit "Slavery and the Making of America"
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

New Year’s Day


the first day of the year. Since ancient times, New Year’s Day has been regarded as a major holiday by most peoples. It is celebrated at different times by different peoples, and its date has changed numerous times over the centuries. In all European countries and in many other countries, New Year’s Day falls on January 1. Where a lunar or lunisolar calendar is used, the beginning of the year may fall on various days of the solar year.

The welcoming of the new year is accompanied by various ceremonies that have evolved over many centuries. Many peoples greet the new year by arranging festive receptions and outdoor gatherings. The tradition of exchanging gifts and greetings has existed since antiquity. Among the rural inhabitants of Europe, New Year’s Day was part of the general winter holiday cycle and was accompanied, as were other days of the cycle, by various ceremonies and types of fortune-telling. Despite the variety of forms New Year’s Day rituals took among different peoples, their significance was the same everywhere: to divine what the new year would bring and to secure good fortune and happiness for the whole family through magic. Today, most of these New Year’s customs have either been forgotten or have lost their magical significance, becoming merely games or diversions.

In Russia, Peter the Great established in 1699 that January 1 would be the first day of the year. In his decree, he enjoined the inhabitants of Moscow to greet the new year by lighting bonfires on New Year’s eve, to decorate their homes with greenery, and to congratulate one another. In the USSR, New Year’s Day is a popular holiday, and new elements are combined with old traditions in its observance—the holiday feast, the decorated and brightly lit fir tree, the exchanging of gifts, and the allegorical figures of Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

New Year's Day

January 1
Celebrating the first day of the year on the first day of January is a relatively modern practice. Although the Romans began marking the beginning of their civil year on January 1, the traditional springtime opening of the growing season and time for major military campaigns still held on as the popular New Year celebration.
William the Conqueror decreed that the New Year commence on January 1, but practice in England was still variable. Even after the Gregorian calendar was adopted by all Roman Catholic countries in 1582, Great Britain and the English colonies in America continued to begin the year on March 25 in accordance with the old Julian calendar. It wasn't until 1752 that Britain and its possessions adopted the New Style (Gregorian) calendar and accepted January 1 as the beginning of the year.
New Year's Day is a public holiday in the U.S. and in many other countries, and is traditionally a day for receiving visitors and recovering from New Year's Eve festivities. A favorite pastime in the United States is watching football games on television—especially the Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, California, the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas, the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida. A number of parades are also televised on New Year's Day, one of the most famous being the Mummers' Parade in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. New Year's is a time for making resolutions for the coming year—promises that are loudly proclaimed and then often forgotten.
See also Hogmanay; Lunar New Year; Oshogatsu; St. Basil, Feast of; Sol
AmerBkDays-2000, pp. 2, 248
BkDays-1864, vol. I, p. 27
BkFest-1937, pp. 3, 14, 22, 29, 37, 51, 65, 77, 84, 94, 101, 110, 118, 131, 143, 157, 165, 178, 194, 203, 210, 218, 236, 240, 248, 266, 273, 288, 297, 307, 316, 326, 335
DaysCustFaith-1957, pp. 17, 355
DictFolkMyth-1984, pp. 181, 790, 791, 950, 1063
EncyChristmas-2003, pp. 509, 549
FestSaintDays-1915, pp. 1, 2, 4, 7
FestWestEur-1958, pp. 3, 22, 32, 54, 87, 105, 121, 150, 160, 188, 210, 225
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 1
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 1
OxYear-1999, p. 6

Celebrated in: Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bermuda, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, England and Wales, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Gibraltar, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Niue, North Korea, Northern Ireland, Norway, Oman, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia, Zimbabwe

New Year's Day (Denmark) (Nytaarsdag)
January 1
In towns and cities throughout Denmark, the New Year marks the beginning of one of the most important social seasons in the calendar. Men and women attend church services and later call on relatives and friends to wish them a Happy New Year. These social calls only last about a half hour, but they go on for almost two weeks. Wine and small cookies are usually served during these visits.
Young people usher in the New Year by banging loudly on their friends' doors and throwing pieces of broken pottery that they have collected during the year against the sides of their houses.
Embassy of Denmark
3200 Whitehaven St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-234-4300; fax: 202-328-1470
BkFest-1937, p. 94
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 2
EncyChristmas-2003, p. 194
FestWestEur-1958, p. 22

Celebrated in: Denmark

New Year's Day (France)
January 1
Known as Le Jour de l'An or Le Jour des Étrennes for the gifts that are exchanged on this day, New Year's Day in France is a time for family reunions, visits, and greeting cards or letters. Tradespeople traditionally send their errand boys or girls to deliver gifts to their patrons. The baker, for example, might send a brioche, while the butcher might send a chicken and the dairyman some eggs. Those who deliver the gifts are usually given wine or money. Servants and clerks often receive an extra month's pay as a New Year's gift, while family and friends give each other chocolates, flowers, preserved fruit, and marrons glacÉs, or candied chestnuts.
In the afternoon, men pay social calls on their women friends and young people visit their elders. In the evening, a formal dinner is usually held at the home of the family's eldest member. Since relatives come from far and wide to attend these reunions, they are usually very large and festive affairs.
BkFest-1937, p. 188
EncyChristmas-2003, p. 265
FestWestEur-1958, p. 32
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 2

Celebrated in: France

New Year's Day (Germany)
January 1
According to German folk tradition, Neujahr is a time of new beginnings, and the first day of the year must be lived as you hope to live during the next 12 months. Housewives put forth an extra effort to make sure their homes are in order, and everyone wears new clothes. People avoid unpleasant tasks and try not to spend money, although they often jingle the coins in their pockets for good luck. People exchange greeting cards, but the giving of gifts is confined to those who have served the family throughout the year—for example, the mail carrier, janitor, and cleaning person.
BkFest-1937, p. 131
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 3
FestWestEur-1958, p. 54

Celebrated in: Germany

New Year's Day (Lithuania)
January 1
Lithuanians have nicknamed New Year's Eve "Little Christmas Eve," because the holidays are celebrated in comparable ways. After eating dinner people sit up to welcome the start of the new year. Like Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve furnishes Lithuanians with an important opportunity for fortune telling. Many New Year's Eve superstitions taught young men and women a wide variety of charms that would reveal something of their future mates.
People watch the weather on New Year's Day carefully, as it is believed to predict the weather for the coming year. Human activities are also viewed as indicators of future events. People try to smile and be kind to one another, as this means that they can expect the same throughout the year. People hope to hear good news when they rise on New Year's Day. The first piece of news they hear, whether good or bad, reveals the kind of news they will receive in the year to come.
EncyChristmas-2003, p. 432

Celebrated in: Lithuania

New Year's Day (Malta)
January 1
The Republic of Malta is a small country in the central Mediterranean that consists of seven islands. The Maltese Islands have a strong Catholic population that celebrates a wide variety of events throughout the religious year. Religious holidays are widely celebrated in Malta. Most Maltese families are very close-knit, and the holidays are a time to strengthen the sense of community and reinforce family bonds.
In Malta, the arrival of the New Year is celebrated on both a secular level and a religious level. Starting on New Year's Eve, most Maltese celebrate by going out for dinner and/or attending a party to ring in the New Year. For New Year's Day, most Maltese celebrate on a secular level by going out for lunch or organizing family lunches. On a religious level, many Maltese celebrate the Feast of Mary Mother of God. Across the country, religious new year celebrations are held in churches and chapels. Practicing Catholics in Malta are expected to observe the Feast of Mary Mother of God by attending mass on this day.
Malta Tourism Authority
Auberge D'Italie
Merchants St.
Valetta VLT 1170 Malta

Celebrated in: Malta

New Year's Day (Netherlands) (Nieuwjaarsdag)
January 1
The first day of the New Year in the Netherlands is spent eating holiday cakes, breads, and waffles, visiting friends, and drinking slemp, a traditional New Year's hot beverage made with milk, tea, sugar, and spices. Traditional baked specialties include knijpertjes, or "clothespins," which have been popular since the Middle Ages, and a long decorative loaf known as duivekater . These and other holiday cakes and pastries are served with slemp, which was originally sold to skaters from stalls on the ice-covered canals.
In Zeeland, Overijssel, and other areas, boys go from house to house ringing bells and wishing people a Happy New Year. Sometimes they bang on a homemade drum called a rommelpot, or "rumble pot," and beg for pennies. It is possible that the rommelpot was originally intended to frighten away evil spirits at the start of the New Year.
BkFest-1937, p. 240
FestWestEur-1958, p. 121

Celebrated in: Netherlands

New Year's Day (Portugal) (Ano Novo)
January 1
In Portugal, the New Year begins with special church services. Afterward, friends and relatives visit each other's houses, greeting each other with "Boas Festas" (Happy Holidays) and exchanging good wishes. In addition, people often make promises about how they will live their lives in the coming year.
In northern Portugal, children go through the neighborhood singing old songs called janeiras ("January songs"), which are thought to bring luck in the coming year. Sometimes a band of local musicians will go through the streets, stopping to play a special selection when they pass the house of someone they know.
There are many traditions and folk beliefs concerning New Year's Day. People tend to mind their manners, believing that how they conduct themselves on this day foreshadows their behavior for the coming year. If they should pay off a debt on New Year's Day, they are likely to end up paying for the next 12 months. It is the custom in Portugal on New Year's Eve to choose 12 grapes from a bunch, and to eat them one after another just as the clock strikes 12, offering New Year's wishes to everyone in the room. This act is supposed to guarantee happiness in the coming year.
BkFest-1937, p. 266
BkFestHolWrld-1970, pp. 3, 5
FestWestEur-1958, p. 160

Celebrated in: Portugal

New Year's Day (Romania) (Anul Nou)
January 1
Children welcome the New Year in Romania with an ancient fertility rite called samanatul, or "sowing." They stuff their pockets with corn and go from house to house, throwing corn at people and greeting them with wishes for a long life. In some parts of Romania, the sorcova —a stick to which flowers are tied—is used instead of corn. The flowers are from twigs plucked on St. Andrew's Eve and forced into blossom by Christmas. Rather than throwing corn at people, the children brush their faces lightly with the sorcova. This custom may be a survival from ancient Roman times, when people saluted one another with laurel branches.
Romanians also celebrate New Year's Day by exchanging gifts. Servants, the poor, and the young often receive gifts of money.
BkFest-1937, p. 273

Celebrated in: Romania

New Year's Day (Russia)
January 1
Under the Communist system New Year's Day largely replaced Christmas as the major winter festival in the former Soviet Union ( see Russian Winter Festival). Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, however, this, or New Year's Eve, is still the day on which Grandfather Frost visits and brings gifts for children. Within the walls of Moscow's Kremlin, there was a huge party at the Palace of Congresses attended by as many as 50,000 children. Entertainment at the party included the arrival of D'yed Moroz, or Grandfather Frost, wearing a white beard, red robe, and a hat trimmed in white fur and riding a Sputnik-drawn sleigh or some other outlandish vehicle. There were also troops of folk dancers, magicians, clowns, and tumblers who performed for the children. Older Muscovites celebrated New Year's by attending dances at schools, clubs, theaters, and union halls. Outside of Moscow, the same festivities took place on a more modest scale.
Caviar, smoked fish, roast meats, and other treats were served in honor of the holiday. Among the many cakes and sweets served were babka, a yeast coffee cake made in a round pan, and kulich, a fancy fruitbread of Ukrainian origin made in three tiers to symbolize the Trinity.
BkFest-1937, p. 288
EncyChristmas-2003, p. 653
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 5

Celebrated in: Russian Federation

New Year's Day (Switzerland) (Neujahrstag)
January 1
The Swiss celebrate New Year's Day with amateur dramatic performances, visits with friends, and feasting on roast goose with chestnut stuffing, New Year's bread, and birewegge, or pear pie, which looks like a shiny loaf of bread and has a rich filling of pears and raisins. Goose necks filled with ground giblets, seasoning, and other ingredients are a favorite delicacy when sliced thin and served as a between-meal snack. Although the holiday is generally a quiet one, children often hide on New Year's morning, startling their parents when they jump out to give them New Year's greetings.
According to Swiss folklore, the first day of January is full of omens and predictions. A red sky, for example, signifies storms, fire, and war in the coming year. Meeting a woman the first thing on New Year's Day is thought to bring bad luck, while encountering a man or a child is looked upon as a good sign.
BkFest-1937, p. 316
FestWestEur-1958, p. 225

Celebrated in: Switzerland

Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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