By Jessica Kirby —
The first New Years celebrations date back 4,000 years to the Babylonian religious festival called Akitu, which coincided with the Spring Equinox, honoured barley cutting and the victory of the sky god Merduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat, and saw a new king crowned or the old king’s rule renewed.
In 46 BC, Julius Cesar created a new calendar, which oriented with the sun rather than the moon and brought the beginning of the new year to January 1. In the Middle Ages, the Christian church ended most Roman festivals because of their pagan roots, and this moved New Year’s celebrations to different times of the year including mid-March and Christmas Day. Finally, in 1582 Pope Gregory the XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar we use today, and it places New Year’s Day on January 1.
Some cultures still follow a Lunar calendar—Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and Muharram, the start of the Islamic New Year both occur in the fall, and Chinese New Year runs for an entire month in late January and early February.
Many world cultures commemorate the new year with special food rituals—in Spain people eat 12 grapes in the seconds leading to midnight for good health over the next 12 months; in China, a dumpling symbolizes good health; the Japanese wish for a long life with long buckwheat noodles, and when in Greece for the new year, try a slice of ring-shaped almond cake with silver or gold coins baked inside to symbolize the year coming full-circle.
In 1907, North America introduced one of the most iconic New Year’s rituals—watching the ball drop in Times Square. The mesmerizing, glittering globe, which has seen seven incarnations over the last 114 years, shines with 16 million colours that sparkle in billion of patterns. Westerners also celebrate with noise makers, parties, late nights, and limo rides, and share the resolution ritual with ancient Babylonians, who used to promise to pay off debt and return borrowed farm equipment, just to set things off right with the gods.
Of course, when it comes to holiday festivities, there are two ways to do things: the green way and the not so green way. If resolutions seem a lot like preconceived resentments, it might be a more manageable task to greenify your New Year’s celebration and revel in the glory of having done something amazing right off the top.
First of all, consider hosting your own New Year’s party and encouraging your guests to taxi or carpool. A friend of mine celebrates with four other families and they take turns hosting a themed, family-friendly event in their homes. Everyone drives together (or cycles—that’s Vancouver Island, for you) or shares a cab, or the kids pile into the playroom for a snuggly New Year’s sleepover.
Decorate your event with an eye on Mother Earth—avoid plastic and paper, one-time use decorations, dishes, and silverware. Think about recycling Christmas wrapping paper to make streamers, hanging snowflakes, origami stars, or other decorations. Create a warm, romantic, and beautiful room—and avoid spiking the hydro bill—with candles, LED lights, and some well-placed mirrors.
Serve up some Earth-friendly snacks and beverages by thinking about ecological footprint and impact on the landfill. I don’t want to wave the vegetarian flag any more than I have to, but meat has an awfully large carbon footprint—unless, of course, you are buying local, so try that. In fact, creating health and delicious snacks and treats using local and seasonally available ingredients is always the best way. Think about packaging, too—if it has too much, leave it on the shelf.
You will probably want to look amazing for your New Year’s event, so head to the Thrift Store, rummage through your closet for something you haven’t worn in a while, or trade amazing outfits with a friend. A lot of carbon, energy, and sometimes unfair labour go into fancy, brand name outfits we often only wear once so ask yourself what is more attractive—a sparkling dress or total confidence in knowing you made an awesome choice inside and out?
And finally, how do we green-ify the “in with the new, out with the old” adage that comes with the year’s fresh start? I thought you’d never ask. To go out with the old in a meaningful and sustainable way, encourage your pals to bring clothing or other items they no longer need and collect them in a large box by the door. People can exchange items they love and you can donate the rest to people in need. Bring in the new with potted herbs or flowers to brighten your party space in place of cut flowers or one-use decorations. Make sure each plant has growing instructions included and have each guest take one when they leave so they can kick off the new year with a new commitment to gardening.
Celebrate the Alternative
The curious and creative can find more to December and January than just the holidays with a quick online search for bizarre and wacky international holidays. There is something to celebrate just about every day of the year, and plenty for every taste.
Start December off with a solemn heart by observing the UN-developed Human Rights Day December 10, but be prepared for a little craziness on December 12, National Ding-a-Ling Day. No one is sure whether it was created to celebrate real or imagined craziness, but either way, open up and get wacky, but save some awesomeness for my husband’s favourite: National Ice Cream Day, which falls on the 13th.
Dig deep and commemorate genealogy on Roots Day December 23, or join the ranks with Pepper Pot Day, first celebrated December 29, 1777 when a steaming pot of this delectable soup was served up to the the Continental Army. And if you decide not to kick it up for New Year’s you can consider yourself a successful celebrator of another important December 31 holiday: Make up Your Mind Day.
January abounds with celebratory options including one of my favorites: Run it up the Flag Pole and See if Anyone Salutes Day on January 2. Besides my penchant for long-winded expressions, I think it’s brilliant to celebrate creativity and healthy risk-taking.
Whether you kick-start your post-holiday cleanse on January 3 with Festival of Sleep Day, or enjoy a friendly bout of irritated contemplation on International Skeptics Day (January 13), or even get wild with books and drama on January 16th’s Appreciate a Dragon Day, the lovers of this world with breathe a collective sign of appreciation when National Hugging Day rolls around on January 21. You can always give Opposite Day (January 25) a try, not to be confused with Backward Day on the 31st, but if you’d rather end the month with a deeper sense of fulfillment, start thinking of ways to Inspire your Heart with Art in celebration of the holiday of the same name on January 31. For more little-known holidays in every month of the year check out Holiday Insights at www.holidayinsights.com. Enjoy!