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Northern EYE by Bob Kimmins: The calendar conundrum

New Year celebrations are the world's oldest holidays - started by the Babylonians on March 23 some 4,000 years ago. In those days, highjinks continued through an 11-day period that made today's form of partying seem tame in comparison.

Published on December 29, 2007

Northern EYE by Bob Kimmins: The calendar conundrum

Bob Kimmins

Although the Babylonians had no written calendar, March 23 sees the first new moon after the vernal equinox, or first day of spring, which was a logical time to ring in the New Year.

Later, Roman dating synchronised with the sun not the moon, and alignment was achieved when the Senate declared January 1 New Year's Day in 153 BC. After further adjustments, Julius Caesar re-established the first day of January on the Julian Calendar 107 years later.

But that wasn't the end of the story. After the early Catholic Church had condemned New Year celebrations as pagan, Christianity embraced them to commemorate the birth of Christ on December 25, and then changed them back to March 25 for Annunciation Day.

Enter Pope Gregory XIII, who sorted things out in the 16th century by revising the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar and returning New Year's Day to January 1.

While most of the modern world accepts January 1 as a New Year's Day, Chinese New Year is still taken seriously. The Chinese calendar year comprises both the Gregorian and lunar-solar systems - broken down into 12 months - each consisting of 39 and a half days.

Chinese New Year commences at the first full moon after the sun enters Aquarius - between January 19 and February 21.

And not forgetting Songkran - the Thai New Year - celebrated from April 13 to 15. Songkran means "move" or "change place" in Thai, as the sun changes position in the zodiac.

Fun and frolics

While uncertainty remains over when New Year's Day should actually occur, everyone agrees that whenever it is, it's party time.

In accordance with the Gregorian Calendar, Hogmanay is practised on the stroke of New Year, when the Scottish carry coal, salt, shortbread, black buns and whisky into neighbouring households for luck; before hands join and voices chorus to Robbie Byrnes poem, "Auld Lang Syne", which means "good old days".

Chinese New Year spans 15 days that involve feasts, family visits and paying respect to elders and ancestors. People wear red and hand out red envelopes containing money to their children. There are lion dances, fireworks and firecrackers, and a lantern festival on the final day.

And Thailand's Songkran consists of temple ceremonies, special food preparations, parades and beauty pageants and chucking buckets of water at each other.

In the days when openly showing affection was taboo in Thai society, my Thai wife and daughter experienced their first Western New Year. They were favourably impressed with the way they were greeted, with a warm and sincere "Happy New Year".

As the evening wore on, they enjoyed the food, whoopee cushions, poppers, whistles, crackers and funny hats, but on the stroke of midnight, when the rather unruly kissing and hugging began, the two girls ran screaming into the toilet and wouldn't come out until everyone had gone.

Promises, promises

Although the ancient Babylonians were thought to make New Year promises, such as handing back borrowed farming equipment, it is commonly believed that resolutions started about 2,000 years ago with Janus -a mythical king of early Rome.

As a symbol of the Roman Calendar, Janus's two faces could reflect on the past and look to the future at the same time, and so the Roman's did likewise at New Year. It was a time to analyse one's bad points and make improvements in the coming 12 months.

In those days, popular Roman resolutions were forgiveness and the intention to exchange gifts, but today many people hope to lose weight, stop certain habits, clear debts, earn more money, become charitable, exercise regularly and resolve conflicts.

However, a lot of resolutions are too ambitious or impossible to achieve and often break down before January is out. Serious resolutions should be planned step by step, like coming off drugs, with no over expectations.

When I decided to stop buying beer on my way home from work every day, the first step was merely the firm intention. Then, I managed to pass the shop or even reach home before going back to buy a bottle. Finally, I succeeded in breaking the habit and controlling the beer instead of the beer controlling me.

With this New Year upon us, I am now desperately planning on how to dispel my murderous thoughts when the neighbours opposite hold karaoke parties in their front garden.

If successful, I'm certain I'll feel a better and stress-released person, but failure will herald the need for analysis.

So, if you're attempting a New Year resolution, I wish you luck - and besides - all the very best for 2008.

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