|Subscribe to our Free E-Magazine on Festivals.|
|Home > New Year Festivals
|New Year Festivals
Baisakhi or Vaisakhi is the first day of the month of Vaisakha, the beginning of the Hindu year in some parts of the country. For the Sikhs in Punjab and other parts of the country, this day has a particular significance, as it was on this day in 1699 that Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa.
In Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, Baisakhi marks the harvesting of the winter rabi crop. This is a time of hard work but also a time when the community gathers together to mark the end of a successful agricultural season. People begin the day with prayers and offerings of thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest. The offerings are usually in the form of the first crop harvested. Prayers are also offered invoking the Gods for plentiful rains and harvest in the upcoming agricultural season.
Homes are cleaned and decorated with garlands of mango leaves and marigold flowers. In Punjab, the robust farming communities celebrate with rambunctious songs and dances. While the men dance the traditional Bhangra with energy and zest, the women folk join in with the gidha. Melas or fairs are held over a couple of days and people participate in the fun, games and entertainment.
A holy bath in a river, tank or well is an important feature of the day`s observance.
The Assamese New Year (Bihu) falls on April 15 and April 14 happens to be the Assamese New Year eve. The Goru Bihu or the cattle festival is celebrated on the Hindu New Year`s Day(April/ May).
The first day of the Bihu is called goru bihu or cow bihu. It falls on the last day of the previous year, usually on April 14. The cows are washed, decorated and worshipped. They are smeared with turmeric and are treated to gur (jaggery) and brinjals.
This day is followed by manuh (human) Bihu on April 15, the New Year Day.
Gregorian New Year
The earliest recording of a new year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, 2000 B.C. and was celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox, in mid-March. Then, the early Roman Calendar designated March 1 as the new year. The calendar had just ten months, beginning with March. In 46 B.C. Julius Caesar introduced a new, solar-based calendar. January 1st was accepted as the New Year, according to this calendar. It was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman calendar, which was a lunar system that had become wildly inaccurate over the years.
In medieval Europe, however, the celebrations accompanying the New Year were considered pagan and unchristian like, and in 567 the Council of Tours abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on Dec. 25, the birth of Jesus; March 1 the Annunciation; March 25, the Easter. In 1582, the Gregorian Calendar reform restored January 1 as new year`s day.
The calendar was introduced in India by the British. Throughout their rule, it was the only calendar in use for official purposes. It was an important all-India holiday during the British rule and always came on the 8th day after Christmas.
New Year starts at midnight. In Indian ports of international importance, like Bombay, Calcutta, Chennai and Cochin, ships` sirens sound the arrival of the New Year exactly at midnight. Celebrations generally confined to Christians. Organisations that follow British traditions have new year eve dinners and dances .
Christians have domestic feast for the new year. They indulge in wild parties and wash themselves with the booze. This is accompanied by dance all through the night and fireworks. People take part in parades and follow the regional traditions and customs. It is the time to visit families and friends and exchange gifts. They exchange greetings for the New Year. Music and drumbeats and grand feasts are the order of the day. New Year also marks the end of the Christmas holiday season that starts with the birth of Jesus Christ on the Christmas Eve. New Year sends out the message of love and unity for all and encourages one to forget the past and look at the future, to start life afresh, wash off the guilt and renew all hopes and dreams.
In Maharashtra, the new year is celebrated as Gudi Padwa. A day of great festivity and rejoicing. A festival that heralds the advent of spring.
Gudi Padva is considered one of the four most auspicious days in the year when people start new ventures. It is believed that Lord Brahma created the world on this day and so he is worshipped specially at this time.
People prepare for the new year by cleaning and washing their houses and buying new clothes. Early in the morning of the first day of the Chaitra month, people wear new clothes and decorate their houses with colorful "rangoli" patterns. They offer oblations to God and pray for a prosperous new year.
People hang "gudis" on their windows on this day to celebrate Mother Nature`s bounty. A "gudi" is a decorated pole with a silk cloth, mango leaves, and marigolds. A brass or a silver vessel is placed on it. The gudi is marked with a swastika.It is raised to announce victory and joy. This "gudi" is erected at sunrise and removed at sunset.
People visit the temples to listen to the yearly calendar- `Panchangasravanam` as priests make predictions for the coming year. In Maharashtra, it is reminiscent of the valiant Marathas returning home from their successful expeditions of war. They honour their favourite leader, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
The prasad of Gudi Padwa is the bitter leaves of the neem tree with jaggery. There are special foods prepared for this festival. In Maharastra, shrikhand -a fragrant yogurt dessert, with poori-a fried puffy bread is prepared. Greetings and sweets are exchanged. It has become a custom to hold Kavi Sammelans ( Poetry recitals) on this day.
Losoong and Mela Losar
Losoong is the Sikkimese New Year. This Buddhist festival marks the end of the harvest season and is celebrated with great feasting at home. Losar, though this is the Tibetan New Year, this is apparently is more respected by the Sikkimese society than Losoong.
Himalayan Buddhist communities celebrate this festival, especially at Dharamsala.
They celebrate it by making offerings to the gods, both in gompas and in their domestic shrines. The festival is marked by ancient rituals, stage fights between good and evil and passing through the crowds with fire torches. Archery contests are held amidst much feasting and merry making.
In Bengal, April 14th is celebrated as Naba Varsha. The Bengali New Year`s Day begins with prabhat pheries (early morning processions), songs and dance to welcome the New Year.
A dip in river Ganga or any other tank is another essential feature of the day`s ritual. After the dip, prayers are offered to the Lord. New projects are initiated on this day.
People bedeck their houses with rangoli (floral patterns) drawn at the entrance of their homes with a paste made of rice powder. With powdered rice, the house-wife makes beautiful designs called alpana on the floor.
Kashmiri New Year`s Day falls in March/April. It`s a day of general festivity and rejoicing throughout the state.
New Year of Samvat or Vikram Era
The first day of Vikram Samvat Calendar is considered to be the first day of Hindu Lunar month of Chaitra, which falls in March or April.
The Vikrama Samvat in Gujarat starts from Diwali. This day is also the beginning of Navratras. In other parts of India, Vikrama Samvat starts in Chaitra (Chaitradi). In ancient times, Vikrama Samvat everywhere started in Kartika. In some parts, it was later made to synchronize with Shaka year starting in Chaitra. Vikram era starts with the regnal year of Vikramaditya, believed to be Chandragupta II. He ruled in the 4th / 5th century of the Christian era, whereas Vikram era is older than Christian era. This discrepancy has never been fully explained.
Originally, the Vikrama Samvat synchronized with the Jain year.The Vira Nirvana Samvat(era) originated on 15,October 527 BCE. It commemorates the nirvana of Lord Mahavira, the 24th Jain Tirthankara. The Vikram Samvat in Gujarat starts from Diwali.
Apart from wearing new clothes and greeting friends and relatives, new account books are started.
The Tamil New Year`s Day is called "Puthandu Vazthukal" - which means "Happy New Year". It is celebrated by Tamils across the world on April 14 every year.
The Tamils regard this day as the day of creation by Lord Brahma. The favorite food of the festival is the "Maanga Pachadi" - made of raw mangoes, jaggery and neem flowers. Its sweet-sour-bitter taste signifies the many moods of life. On the Tamil New Year`s Day, a big Car Festival is held at Tiruvadamarudur near Kumbakonam. Festivals are also held at Tiruchirapalli, Kanchipuram and many other places.
It is the New Year day in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh. The Telegu New Year falls on the first day of the month of Chaitra (March-April). People in Andhra Pradesh, the southeastern Indian coastal state believe that Lord Brahma began the creation of the universe on this auspicious day of Ugadi.
This day marks the beginning of a new Hindu lunar calendar with a change in the moon`s orbit. It is a day when mantras are chanted and predictions made for the new year. Traditionally, the panchangasravanam or listening to the yearly calendar was done at the temples. Ugadi is also an auspicious day to embark on any new endeavor.
People prepare for the New Year by cleaning and washing their houses and buying new clothes. The New Year is marked with the ritually purifying bath. On the Ugadi day, they decorate their houses with mango leaves, marigold and "rangoli" designs, and pray for a prosperous new year.
In the southern states, puligore-a sour tamarind rice dish, bobbatlu, holige- a sweet stuffed bread and Ugadi Pachadi made of jagerry, raw mango pieces, neem flowers and tamarind is prepared. In the evening, families share in the vadais and payasams that have been cooking all day in the family kitchen.
Vishu of the Kollum New Year
In Kerala, the New Year is called Vishu. "Vishu" is the first day in the first month of Medam in Kerala.
The people of this state -- the Malayalees - begin the day early in the morning by visiting the temple and seeing any auspicious sight, which they call "Vishukani." It is characterised in Malayali homes, by the `first sighting` (Vishukkani) of auspicious articles ceremoniously placed before a lamp.
People wear new clothes - "Kodi vastram" - and celebrate the day by bursting firecrackers and enjoying a variety of delicacies at an elaborate lunch called the "sadya" with family and friends. The afternoon and evening is spent in the "Vishuwela" - the New Year fair.
Elders give cash presents to dependents and relatives younger to them. This is called Kayneettam (extending the hand). People decorate their homes with flowers and offer prayers for a bountiful harvest in the forthcoming agricultural season. In Tamil Nadu, ceremonial processions are taken out, with richly caparisoned elephants swinging along to the beat of drums. The day is full of the elaborate traditional rituals with tokens called "Vishukaineetam", usually in form of coins, being distributed among the downtrodden.
It is celebrated as the new year by Faslis ( a Parsi sect). It is the only festival of the Faslis recognised by the government of India.
Celebration of the festival dates back to over 3000 years when the legendary king of Persia, Jamshedji ascended the throne on the day of `Navroz`. `Nav` means new and `Roz` means day. The day happened to be a vernal equinox.- when the length of the day equals that of the night. Navroz marked the transition from winter to summer. Later, the particular day came to known and celebrated as `Jamshed Navroz Festival`.
Navroz means spring when Mother Nature casts off everything that is old or super-flows and dresses herself like a young bride in every vibrant colour and hue, rejoicing in her own pure spiritual beauty. Thus, Navroz is a new dawn in everyone`s life.
It is also said, King Jamshedji introduced solar calculation into the Persian calendar and also determined the date when the Sun enters the constellation of Aries, in the beginning of the year. The advent of spring in February-March and the vernal equinox - these are the two events that mark the Jamshed-e-Navroz.
The Zoroastrians, spread in western parts of India celebrate the Parsi new year (around March) with prayers, giving of alms and donations, family gatherings and feasts. Some observe it as a day of repentance and reunions. They resolve to put behind them clashes and ill will.
Men, women and even children wake up early, bath and dress up in new clothes. They decorate the threshold and steps of their houses with coloured powders, light incense sticks and sprinkle sandalwood powder on live coals, kept in a censor. All this is not only auspicious but also purifies the air.
Food plays a very important role as a significant part of all Parsi festivals. Parsis being non-vegetarian, fish, mutton, chicken, nuts, spices and fruits are bought a day before and a variety of dishes are prepared for the following day of Navroz. Two special dishes are served. One is the "Ravo" made with Suji, milk and sugar and the other is fried vermiceli cooked in sugar syrup and sprinkled with raisins and lot of almond slivers.
After breakfast all the family members go to the nearest Fire Temple or Agyari. In the temple, a "JASHAN" - a thanks-giving prayer is performed by the priest and each one of the congregation offers sandalwood to the Holy Fire. As per the Parsi custom everyone has to cover their heads while praying inside the temple. Children put on cops of gold or silver brocade; men put on black velvet caps and the women pull their sari pallus over their heads. After the "Jashan" ceremony all people greet each other by saying "Sal Mubarak".
Fairs were organised, during the reigns of Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jehan. Aurangzeb abolished the fairs and suppressed Navaroz celebrations as un-Islamic in general and un-Sunni in particular.
In the case of Parsi festivals, there is the free mixing of men and women. During these Parsi festivals, people from all the classes come together, ignoring social differences to rejoice whole-heartedly and celebrate the festive occasion in friendship, harmony and happiness.
Navroz is the Parsi new year`s day. On 21st of August, the Parsi community celebrates its New Year. It is a time of piety, feasting and rejoicing. Pateti is in fact the eve of the new year of Zoroastrian Calendar. Most of the Parsis in India are followers of the Shahenshahi calendar. So, in India, Pateti falls in August. Outside India, most Zoroastrians follow the Fasli calendar. So, the festival falls in March.
Pateti is the last day of the previous year, and the day to close accounts for the year. The significance of Pateti is that, it is the day to dwell on the wrongs or sins one may have committed the previous year, and atoning for them.
The word pateti is derived from Pazend patet, meaning `repentance`. The Zoroastrian tenets are based on the three ideals of good thoughts, good words and good deeds. Anything that is out of accord with this is considered a sin. It is natural for anyone to have committed a sin in the course of a year, even if only inadvertently. Pateti is the occasion to redeem oneself by offering patet, or the prayer of repentance, and prepare to greet the new year with a clean conscience.
Parsis visit the agyari or the fire temple on this day. The agyari is called as a fire temple because the sacred fire which was brought from Iran once upon a time is always kept burning in the temple by the high priest. The parsis worship Ahura Mazda, symbolised by fire. The parsis on this day, promise to live with good thoughts, use good words and perform the right actions.
On the day of Pateti, the Parsis dress up in new clothes, offer charity and arrange lavish feasts in their homes. Meals consist of traditional Parsi dishes, including pulao dal, sali boti, and patra-ni-machchi. After a sumptuous meal, it is time to wish family and friends.
It is also a day of thanksgiving, to be grateful to God not just for the joys of life but also the sorrows.
Rosh Hashanah is a New Year Day celebrated by Jews. This falls on the first day of the seventh month of Tishri, in commemoration of the agricultural life of ancient Jewry when the year began with the first month of autumn.
It is not a day of rejoicing but one of solemnity and soul-searching when Jews stand before God`s judgement seat and the pious prepare for it by a daily fast from morning to evening for 30 days preceding. It is inaugurated by the kindling of festive lights in the home and in the synagogue. A special benediction is recited.
Rosh Hashanah marks the advent of the High Holidays and introduces the annual Ten Days of Penitence or Days of Awe. Most of the festival is spent in self-examination through congregational prayers in the synagogues. Except when the first day falls on the Sabbath (Saturday), the ram`s horn (shofar) is sounded many times during the day as a clarion call to repentance.
Laws and customs governing observance of the festival include: dipping of bread used for the benediction and also of pieces of apple in honey. This expresses the Jewish hope that the coming year will be a sweet one. They eat carrots and head of a fish, symbolic of fertility and leadership. Special prayer known as Tashlikh is recited beside a stretch of water, preferably flowing, on the first afternoon (or on the second, if the first day falls on Sabbath). It is said that into this water the sins are symbolically cast and it thus, expresses the hope that `God will cast all your sins in the depths of the sea` i.e. by repentance. In modern times, people also send New Year cards with the greeting `Le-shana tova tikhtevu` (May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a happy New Year).
The Day of Atonement
The 10th day of Tishri (September-October) is observed as the Day of Atonement and is also known as Yom Kippur.
It is the holiest day in the year when God is expected to seal the judgement reached on the individual lives, in the light of their thoughts, words and deeds in the preceding year. After kindling the Yom Kippur lights at home, on the eve of the festival, the family goes to the synagogue for the Kol-nidrei (all vows) service. This is a solemn declaration absolving all members of the faith from the unfulfilled vows unwittingly or impulsively made to God by man. Vows, promises and undertakings between man and man cannot, however, so be annulled, such promises and undertakings must in any case be honoured.
A strict fast is observed from sunset to nightfall of the next day; eating, drinking, marital relations, use of cosmetics and toiletries are strictly forbidden. People generally dress fully in white on this day.
The most important festival of the Jews is Pessah or the Passover. The feast of Passover is celebrated in the Jewish month of Nisan (March-April) in commemoration of Israel`s liberation from the bondage of the Pharaohs of Egypt for four hundred years.
The ancient Jews, under the leadership of their Prophet Moses, decided on an exodus from Egypt in the 13th century B.C. It was done in complete secrecy. Every Jew killed a male lamb, less than a year old and stained the lintel and side posts of his front door with the blood of the slain animal. This was done so that the angel of God, who went round to kill the first-born of the Egyptians, who had. earlier destroyed the first-born of the Jews, would pass over their houses. This was the last of the ten plagues inflicted on the Pharaoh and his people for refusing to let the Jews go. A feast is arranged on the first two nights of Passover when consecrated roast lamb is eaten for supper.
It is a festival of freedom and its special feature is the eating of matzot, unleavened bread, to mark the extreme haste in which the Jews had to eat and leave Egypt without giving time for the leaven to form in the dough. During the eight days of the festival, any form of leaven is strongly prohibited, and the days- before Passover become for Jewish families a period of spring cleaning to ensure that all traces of leaven are removed and destroyed. On the first two days, the ritual of the Passover Supper known as the Seder is observed. All the participants take it by turns to recite from the Haggadah, the story of the Exodus, with a charming introduction in the shape of four questions by the youngest celebrant as to why the night is different from all other nights. The ritual plate for the meal contains matzot, wine, boiled eggs, salt, bitter herbs (to recall the bitterness of the days of slavery in Egypt) and a sweet mixture of nuts and honey or apple juice (to recall the sweetness of freedom). There is also a roasted shank bone symbolising the Paschal lamb sacrificed and eaten in ancient times to mark the exodus from Egypt. At the end of the meal, the members sing traditional songs and melodious jingles, especially for children.
Fifty days or seven weeks after the feast of Passover is Pentecost or Shavuoth. It is an ancient harvest festival. It is also called the day of First Fruits, and is celebrated on the sixth day of the Hebrew month Sivan (June- July). The name "Pentecost" comes from the Greek word Pentékosté(fiftieth [day]), since Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover.
According to Church tradition, Pentecost is always celebrated seven weeks after Easter Sunday. It falls in mid-spring in the Northern Hemisphere and mid-Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.
It marks the birth of Christian Church. The festival also commemorates the events on Mount Sinai, when Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. The day is accordingly known as the festival of the giving of the Torah (teachings or instructions).
The synagogues are decorated with the greenery to stress the harvest origin of the festival. The Book of Ruth is read during the religious services. In homes, dairy food is customarily eaten.
It begins with the offering of the barley during Passover and ended with the offering of the wheat at Shavuot. This feast provides closure for the festival activities during and following the holiday of Passover.
Feast of Tabernacles
Five days after Yom Kippur, a feast is celebrated in memory of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and their wanderings for 40 years in the wilderness before reaching Palestine. This is called Succoth.
During their wanderings, the Jews had to live in booths (succoth, plural of succah, a booth). To commemorate the wanderings, Jews construct booths.
A joyful holiday atmosphere prevails during the observance of the festival for 9 days. The pious have their meals and spend their prayer times in the shelter of the booths or huts, the roofs covered with leafy branches and twigs, decorated with coconuts and flowers through which the stars are visible.
The Liturgy includes the waving of four kinds of branches, the palm, the myrtle, the willow and the citron, each day in the morning service, except on the Sabbath. The congregation moves around in a procession, Hakkafah, bearing the four branches, while the Hoshana (Save us) hymn is recited.
This interesting festival is celebrated in the Jewish month of Adar to commemorate the triumph of Israel over their enemies when they lived in captivity under the Assyrian king Ahasuerus. The story is that Haman, the king`s minister, a determined Jew-baiter, decided to massacre all Jews in the kingdom, and in a secret meeting with his henchmen cast lots (hence Purim, lots) to fix the date for the massacre. In the meantime, the beauti-ful Jewess Esther, the adopted daughter of Mordecai, was married to king Ahasuerus.
Haman`s plot was discovered by Mordecai who informed Esther about it. The young queen then prevailed upon her husband to let the Jews massacre all their enemies on the same date, which Haman had fixed for the extirpation of the Jews.
So, instead of the Chosen People of God, their enemies were annihilated on this date, and Haman himself was hanged on gallows fifty cubits high. In some parts of the Jewish world, but not in India, effigies of Haman are `beaten to death` and set on fire.
This day is marked by giving of alms, costume parties, noisemaking and general merriment. Its special dishes include pastries with poppy seeds, dates or fruit. Typical greeting for this and other holidays is `Chag sameach`, "a happy holiday."
In India, it coincides with the festival of Holi. Since the Jews were saved by intercession of Esther, the service in the synagogue is marked by the reading of the `Megilath Esther`. During the reading, the congregation stamp their feet, and children make noises with rattles, every time the name of Haman is uttered during the recital. These actions blot out the memory of the evil-doer. A special collection for charity is also made at the end of the service.