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The New Year

image: balloons and confettiNew Year's Eve falls on December 31st, the day before the first day of the calendar year. In the United States, Canada, England, and many other countries around the world, New Year's Eve is a festive occasion marked by boisterous celebrations to welcome the new year.

In the United States, many people go to New Year's Eve parties. Crowds gather in Times Square in New York City, on State Street in Chicago, and in other public places. At midnight, bells ring, sirens sound, firecrackers explode, and everyone shouts, "Happy New Year!" People also drink a toast to the new year and sing "Auld Lang Syne."

The date of new year's
People around the world celebrate the new year on different dates. The early Roman calendar used March 1 as New Year's Day. Later, the ancient Romans made January 1 the beginning of the year.

During the Middle Ages, most European countries used March 25, a Christian holiday called Annunciation Day, to start the year. By 1600, many Western nations had adopted a revised calendar called the Gregorian calendar. This calendar, the one used today, restored January 1 as New Year's Day. Great Britain and its colonies in America adopted it in 1752.

Many people celebrate the new year on dates established by their religion. For example, the Jewish New Year, a solemn occasion called Rosh Ha-Shanah, is observed during September or early October. Hindus in different parts of India celebrate the new year on various dates. Muslims use a calendar that has 354 days in most years. As a result, the Muslim New Year falls on different dates from year to year on the Gregorian calendar. In the Russian Orthodox Church, the year starts on January 14.

In Iran, the new year begins on March 21. The Iranians call this No Ruz, which means "New Day." And many Chinese living outside China celebrate the old Chinese New Year. It falls between January 21 and February 19.

Ancient New Year's customs

animated torchMany ancient peoples started the year at harvesttime. They performed rituals to do away with the past and purify themselves for the new year. For example, some people put out the fires they were using and started new ones.

In early times, the ancient Romans gave each other New Year's gifts of branches from sacred trees. In later years, they gave gold-covered nuts or coins imprinted with pictures of Janus, the god of gates, doors, and beginnings. January was named after Janus, who had two faces--one looking forward and the other looking backward. The Romans also brought gifts to the emperor. The emperors eventually began to demand such gifts. But the Christian church outlawed this custom and certain other pagan New Year's practices in A.D. 567.

The ancient Persians gave New Year's gifts of eggs, which symbolized productiveness. The Celtic priests of what is now England gave the people branches of mistletoe, which was considered sacred.

The Celts took over many New Year's customs from the Romans, who invaded the British Isles in A.D. 43. By the 1200's, English rulers had revived the Roman custom of asking their subjects for New Year's presents. Common presents included jewelry and gold. Queen Elizabeth I acquired a large collection of richly embroidered and jeweled gloves through this custom. English husbands gave their wives money on New Year's Day to buy pins and other articles. This custom disappeared in the 1800's. However, the term pin money still means small amounts of spending money.

Many American colonists in New England celebrated the new year by firing guns into the air and shouting. They also visited taverns and houses to ask for drinks. Other colonists attended church services. Some people held open house, welcoming all visitors and feeding them generously.

Another old custom involved using the Bible to predict what would happen in the new year. People chose a passage of the Bible at random. They then applied the passage to the coming months of the new year.