The start of a new year answers an age-old yearning by humans for a fresh beginning, the equivalent of an animal’s shedding of an old skin to replace it with a new, shiny and unwrinkled one. (And don’t we wish that we could). Perhaps we even wish to abandon our chrysalis altogether and fly away like a butterfly.
It is a time for reviewing the actions of the past year and resolving to start anew. Every year we try valiantly to emerge as a new person only to fall back on old ingrained habits while most of life continues much as before. Tabula rasa (a blank slate) is not as easy to achieve as one might think, but it is a worthy effort nonetheless.
And of course, each major world religion has its own way of figuring out when the year begins.
In Christianity, Advent (December 1st to 24th) is the beginning of the Christian liturgical new year, a time to celebrate the nativity of Jesus and prepare for his rebirth.
Buddhists too celebrate the New Year. They take
images of the Buddha in procession through the streets; worshipers visit Buddhist sanctuaries; monks are given gifts; exorcism ceremonies are performed by families to remove evil forces. It is a cleansing of bad habits and a dedication to future good deeds.
Muslims celebrate the Islamic New Year (Muharram) on the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Dates differ from year to year as they are based on a lunar cycle beginning with sighting of the new moon. Muharram means forbidden and many observe it by fasting on the 9th and 10th day of the first month of the year. It also honors the emigration of Mohamed from Mecca to Medina known as the Hijrah and gives the first day of the moon its name. Many Shia Muslims also perform chest beating, flagellatio0n and forehead cutting in repentance At this time the Muslim year is 1440.
In Judaism Rosh Hashanah (Head of the year) and Yom Kippur (Day of atonement) occur on the 7th month of the Calendar and is a time for rejoicing but also for introspection, repentance and reviewing of the actions of the past year. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year and is celebrated as such. By comparison Chanukah is a minor holiday.
In Israel a Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1917 and the beginning of the secular new year was reset to
January 1, 1918. In pre-state Israel, under the British Mandate, Orthodox Christians celebrated the new year in
Mid-January, Muslims in summer and Jews in early Fall. We are now in the Hebrew Year 5778.
In Russia the Soviets officially adopted the Gregorian calendar which starts the New Year on January 1, but the Orthodox Church is still quite influential and its New Year only begins on January 14.
So here we are now in the United States on the 5th day of January 2020 and it is time to wish everybody a joyous, peaceful, productive, and Trumpless New Year!