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Happy New Year!

01:00 Thu 27th Dec 2001 |

We'll all hear this a few times over the next couple of weeks, and new year is the oldest of all human festivals - though it is odd that we in Europe mark the beginning of the year on 1 January, right in the depths of winter with no astronomical or agricultural significance, rather than spring when Nature really gets up and running again.

Q. Who first celebrated new year

A. The earliest known observation was in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. The Babylonian new year began with the first visible crescent moon after the Vernal Equinox, traditionally the first day of spring.

Q. So they celebrated it at the beginning of spring

A. They did, and the Babylonian new year's celebration lasted for eleven days, each of which had its own particular activity, and it is safe to say that modern New Year's Eve festivities pale in comparison.

Q.�What's with 1 January, then

A. The Romans continued with the Mediterranean tradition of observing the new year in late March, but their calendar was continually tampered with by various emperors so that it soon became completely out of synchronisation with the sun. In order to rectify this the Roman senate, in 153 BC, declared 1 January to be the beginning of the new year and rejigged the whole calendar to suit.

Q. What was the Church's view of the new year celebrations

A. Although in the early Christian era the Romans continued celebrating the new year, the early Church condemned the festivities as pagan. As Christianity became more widespread, however, the Church began having its own religious observances concurrently with many of the pagan celebrations, and New Year's Day was no exception. In fact the day is still observed as the Feast of Christ's Circumcision by some denominations.

Despite this, throughout the Middle Ages, the Church remained opposed to making a big deal of new year, and it has only been celebrated as a holiday by western European nations for the last 400 years or so.

Q. What traditions are associated with the festival

A. The tradition of making New Year's resolutions is one which dates back to the Babylonians. Popular modern resolutions might include the promise to lose weight or quit smoking; the Babylonians' most popular resolution was, apparently, to return borrowed farm equipment.

Early Egyptians used a baby as a symbol of rebirth, and the tradition of using a small child to signify the new year began to be observed in Greece around 600 BC. It was the tradition there at the time to honour Dionysus, the god of wine, by parading a baby in a basket, representing the annual rebirth of that god as the spirit of fertility.

The popularity of the baby as a symbol of rebirth enabled the Church to reevaluate its position towards the festivities, and the baby mutated into a symbol of the birth of the baby Jesus.

Q. So, how do we wish our European neighbours a Happy New Year


Austria: Gl�ckliches Neues Jahr

Belgium: Gelukkig Nieuw Jaar (Flemish); Bonne Ann�e (French)

Denmark: Godt Nyt�r (Danish); Eydnurikt N�ggj�r (Faroese)

Finland: Onnellista Uutta Vuotta (Finnish); Gott Nytt �r (Swedish)

France: Bonne Ann�e (French); Glecklichs Nej Johr (Alsatian); Bloav Ezh Mat (Breton); Bon Capu D' Annu (Corsican); Bona Annada (Occitan)

Germany: Gl�ckliches Neues Jahr

Greece: Eftihismenos O Kenourios Chronos

Holland: Gelukkig Nieuwjaar

Italy: Felice Anno Nuovo (Italian); Bon An Gn�f (Friulian); Prosperu Annu Nou (Sardinian)

Ireland: Bliadhna Mhath Ur

Luxembourg: Sch�int N�i Joer (Luxembourgeois)

Portugal: Feliz Ano Novo

Spain: Pr�spero A�o Nuevo (Castilian); Goyosa A�ada Beni�n (Aragonese); Gayoleru Anu Nuevu (Asturian); Urte Berri On (Basque); Feli� Any Nou (Catalan); Bo Ani No (Galician)

Sweden: Gott Nytt �r (Swedish); Buorre Oddajahki (S�mi)

UK: Looan Blethen Noweth (Cornish); Bliadhna Mhath Ur (Scots Gaelic); Blwyddyn Newydd Dda (Welsh)

See also the answerbank articles on the�Cornish, Dutch and Welsh��languages and Christmas around Europe

For more on Phrases & Sayings click here

By Simon Smith

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