The earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new year’s arrival date back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox—a day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness—heralded the start of a new year.
If the first recorded New Year’s celebration was in March, how did it move to January 1st? The answer may be found at History.com where we discover that Emperor Julius Cesar introduced the Julian calendar, which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar that most countries use today, and Cesar made January 1st the first day of the year, partly to honor the month’s namesake, Janus, the Roman god of beginnings.
Therefore, if you celebrate the New Year on January 1st, you are celebrating a pagan holiday. But all is not lost. Later, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Christian leaders in medieval Europe during the Dark Ages replaced January 1st as the first day of the year with days carrying more religious significance such as December 25, the anniversary of Jesus’s birth—until Pope Gregory XIII (Born 1502 – Died 1585) reestablished January 1st as New Year’s Day in 1582.
Countries that do NOT celebrate the New Year on the first of January
For China, the first day of the New Year falls between January 21 and February 20. The Chinese New Year is celebrated at the turn of the Chinese calendar, also known as the Spring Festival.
The Chinese New Year gained significance because of several myths and traditions. History.com says, “The ancient Chinese calendar, on which the Chinese New Year is based, functioned as a religious, dynastic and social guide. Oracle bones inscribed with astronomical records indicate that it existed as early as the 14th century BC, when the Shang Dynasty was in power.”
Traditionally, the festival was a time to honor deities (gods) as well as ancestors. The Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories that have significant Chinese populations, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, and the Philippines.
In 2015, China witnessed 261 million people on the move to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday, and they traveled by road, rail and air—all over a short period of time. The Chinese Lunar New Year for 2016 takes place on Monday, February 8, and it is a national holiday that runs from February 7 – 13.
When we visited China in 2008 during this holiday, the Lunar New Year on February 7, the Year of the Rat, and 2016 will be the Year of the Monkey. Each year is related to an animal sign according to a 12-year-cycle. Years of the Monkey include 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, and 2028.
Back during the Year of the Rat in 2008, my sister and her youngest daughter traveled with us as we toured China—and both are evangelical Christians who did not agree with China’s one-child policy. I heard this more than once but after they arrived in China and experienced that migration, they both stopped preaching about why the one-child policy was wrong.
At times, it was so crowded that it felt as if we were swimming upriver through an ocean of people minus the water—just people packed tight like sardines in a can.
That’s when I decided that my next trip to China will not be during any of China’s national holidays—especially the Lunar New Year.
For readers who haven’t been to China, this may be your only chance to experience a taste of what it is like to live in a country with more than 1.3 billion people. By the way, 261 million people are more than 82% of the population of the United States. Imagine the gridlock if that many Americans took to the roads and air all at once.
In China, it is so crowded on trains and busses during this holiday, that it’s possible for a passenger to end up standing for a trip that might take 16 to 48 hours.
For the United States in 2014, the Automobile Club reported that 98.6 million Americans traveled during the Christmas to New Year holiday season, a four percent increase over 2013.
2014 Lunar New Year in Beijing, China
Sounds like a War!
In 9th century China during the Tang Dynasty, Chinese alchemists, searching for the elixir of immortality, because the emperor wanted to live forever, accidently created gunpowder instead and then the invention of fireworks followed in the 10th century.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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