The New Years that majority of the U.S. population is familiar with is the one where the ball drops at 12 on Dec. 31 in Times Square, New York. There are midnight kisses, celebratory champagne drinks and glamorous parties characterized by party poppers and fun balloons. Yet, these failed resolutions, rose parades and Facebook statuses saying “new year, new me” are not celebrated by many Pali students. In fact, many people are engaged in a cultural New Years Day that falls on a different date on the calendar — after Jan. 1.
Lunar New Year
The sudden appearance of red paper lanterns at shopping centers and “Year of the Dog” themed $1 scratchers may have alerted many of the arrival on Feb. 16. of the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival.
The ancient holiday is based on the Chinese Lunisolar calendar that uses the moon’s phases. Typically, the Lunar New Year begins with a new moon that marks the first lunar month, and ends 15 days later with a full moon. The final day, Yuanshao, is celebrated with the Festival of Lanterns, named for the colorful lanterns that are lit and often sent flying into the sky during the event. Sometimes riddles are attached to these lanterns and people will have the opportunity to guess the answers. The Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles will host a Festival of Lanterns with free admission on March 3.
One aspect of the Chinese lunisolar calendar is the 12-year cycles based on Jupiter’s orbit. The Chinese Zodiac assigns each year in the cycle an animal: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Children born in 2018 (and until February 4th, 2019) will be born in the year of the dog. The Chinese Zodiac also has a cycle of 5 elements, so this is the first Earth Dog year we have had since 1958. In fact, certain personality traits are associated with those that are born in the “Year of the Dog”, such as honesty and positivity.
There are many customs surrounding the Lunar New Year, such as spring cleaning in the days leading up to it. Visiting friends and relatives is common and the festivities are oftentimes accompanied by eating. Many of the foods eaten are symbolic: fish represents prosperity, dumplings or spring rolls for wealth and Tangyuan (sweet rice balls) for family togetherness. “We eat the traditional Korean New Year’s food… My favorite part [of the celebration] is eating the good food whilst spending time with family,” junior Devin Akahoshi commented.
Another custom that comes with Lunar New Year is for children to be given red envelopes containing lucky money. The money is usually an even number that cannot be divided by four, because the Chinese word for four, “si”, means death in the language.
“Every tradition that is part of Lunar New Year has a meaning,” freshman Sophia Wong said. “Spring cleaning is leaving the old and opening to the new. For food, long noodles can represent long life. The color red represents good luck and gold represents wealth.”
On March 21, the coming of spring will also be honored with Nowruz, often called Persian New Year because of its Iranian origins. The 3,000-year holiday begins on both the first day of spring and the first day of the Solar Hijri Calendar: the official calendar of Iran and Afghanistan. It typically falls on either March 20. or March 21. on the gregorian calendar.
Spring cleaning and home repairment often proceeds Nowruz, just as it does the Lunar New Year. This process is called khoneh takooni, or “shaking the house.” Once Nowruz begins, the celebrations continue for 13 days.
To celebrate Nowruz, families set up a traditional table known as the Haft Sin. The Haft Sin contains seven items that begin with the farsi equivalent of the letter ‘s’, sin-seen. Among these seven items is sabzeh, which refers to a small dish with wheat, barley, mung bean or lentil sprouts growing in it. While a sabzeh dish can be purchased, many families choose to grow their own dish prior to Nowruz. The sabzeh symbolises rebirth and renewal. Besides the traditional seven items, Haft Sins also often includes live goldfish in bowls, which symbolizes new life and painted eggs, representing fertility.
Nowruz is widely observed by gathering together for meals. “[Nowruz] brings my family and friends together, sets a good mood for the New Year, and keeps our culture and traditions familiar to the younger generation to pass down,” junior Lauren Yermian explained.
Meals on Nowruz often include green herbed rice with fried fish (Sabzi Polo ba Mahi), grape leaves stuffed with rice (Dolmeh) and green herbed omelettes (Kookoo sabzi).
On the last Wednesday before Nowruz ends, families and friends gather for a festival known as Chaharshanbe Suri. This year, Chaharshanbe Suri will fall on March 13. The famous tradition of this day is colloquially called “jumping over the fire.” In an open area, small bonfires are set up in a row for people to jump over after sunset. This activity is meant to restore health and purge weakness. While jumping, one must sing the words “sorxi-ye to az man, zardi-ye man az to”, which mean “Give me your beautiful red color, And take back my sickly pallor!”
“I feel like [jumping over the fire]is the official moment of the New Year; and it’s thrilling. As if I have left all the negativity in the old year,” Yermian said.
Later in the year, lasting from the evening of Sept. 9 until the evening of Sept. 11, is the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah. Based on the Hebrew calendar, the next Rosh Hashanah will mark the Hebrew year of 5779.
Rosh Hashanah is considered the anniversary of when Adam and Eve were created. It is also the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days or Days of Awe. The second High Holy Day is Yom Kippur, the Day of Judgement or Atonement. The religious belief is that on Rosh Hashanah, God opens three books — each for the name of the righteous, the wicked or those in between. The names of the righteous are put into the book of life, and before Yom Kippur, those who were in between are allowed to reflect and repent their actions.
Due to the fact that no one knows who is righteous and who is not, the period of reflection is common among all celebrating the High Holy Days. A customary saying is “on Rosh Hashanah it is written; on Yom Kippur it is sealed.” After fasting from sundown to sundown on Yom Kippur, those with their names in the book of life are sealed to live, while the wicked are sealed into the book of death.
Rosh Hashanah is not a somber holiday; in fact, the traditions of repenting for past actions and apologizing to others for wrongdoings makes it symbolic to many of a fresh start.
On Rosh Hashanah, people gather in synagogues for services and the prayers are accompanied by the most well-known Rosh Hashanah tradition of all: blowing the shofar. The shofar is a trumpet made from a ram’s horn, and its loud call was used as a battle cry in ancient days. Hearing the shofar blow is considered a mitzvah, a commandment from God.
“It’s always a great way to see your family and a beautiful tradition. The history behind Rosh Hashanah is probably my favorite part, dating back over 5000… it is just a joyous holiday to celebrate,” explained junior Nikki Khoubian.
In addition to services, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated by families and friends gathering to eat, often at a ceremonial dinner or “seder.” Apples and honey are eaten to symbolize a “sweet new year,” while round challah bread is eaten to symbolise how the year is round: an eternal cycle.
“In a day and age where students are beginning to drift away from religion, I feel like Rosh Hashanah shows Jewish children how impactful and meaningful the religion is,” junior Devin Radfar said.
On Nov. 7, the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, will begin. The five day celebration is observed as a new year by the Marwari people.
The 2,500 year old Diwali festival is symbolic of the victory of light over darkness. The traditional stories about the origins of the holiday varies among regions, but each story has one commonality: the theme of a good person, or deity, defeating an evil one. “It helps re-establish the significance of Hinduism’s most impactful deities, such as Lord Shiva, and reiterates the lesson that the power of good will always shine over the bad,” junior Karishma Desai explained.
People often prepare for the festival by cleaning, renovating and decorating. One of the traditional decorations is rangoli where vibrant and colorful art patterns on the floor are created with powdered materials such as colored rice, dried flour or flower petals.
Homes are often lit up in order to invite in the Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of good fortune, and traditional diyas, or clay lamps, are often placed on doorways and windows to illuminate every corner.
Families and friends often get together to celebrate Diwali, sharing meals and exchanging gifts. “[I enjoy Diwali] because my family and I carry on old traditions that my grandparents used to celebrate back in India. I have fun drawing designs with rangoli and cooking indian treats (like laddus) with my mom and grandma… I love indulging on the ghee— filled Indian desserts with my cousins,” Desai said.
All of these versions of New Year are simply indicative of one matter: there is a rich tapestry of culture and tradition surrounding the marking of a new year that is observed both by those at Pali and worldwide. And while each celebration is unique in itself, there are many commonalities within each tradition: from being with family to starting the year fresh to just eating delicious food, New Years Day is a time for celebrations to ensue and happiness to foster.