Celebrating the New Year is a tradition that dates back to ancient Babylon, nearly 4,000 years ago. Originally it was celebrated during the time of the first New Moon, which is in the Spring. (That tradition continues to this day, by the way, in many parts of the world - particularly in Asia.) It wasn't until Julius Caesar established the Julian calendar that the date of January 1st was even thought of as the beginning of a new year.
Tet Nguyen-Dan is the most important holiday within the Vietnamese culture, and is celebrated for three days. In years past, on New Year's Eve, fireworks that had been strung to houses would have been set off at midnight. To try and help add to all of the noises that were intended to intimidate and drive away the evil spirits, the people would go outside and shout and bang as loudly as they could on pots and pans.
Chinese celebrations, which extend over a 15-day period, include the Lion Dance which I bet many of you have seen. The costume is colorful but intended to be quite fierce, and the dance is usually accompanied by loud drums and cymbals to help drive away the evil spirits. Then, on the last day of their celebrations, lanterns are lit to help guide those spirits who did not know the way how to get back to their home.
In Sri Lanka, there is a kind of "in limbo" period of several hours between when the old year ends and the new year begins, during which people are encouraged to restrain from material pursuits and participate in religious reflections according to custom.
Some people of the world still celebrate the coming of a new year in conjunction with seasonal changes - warmer weather that brings hope and signs of new growth and a re-birth of life, as it were.
Almost all 'clean house' - some literally, by sweeping away bad luck - others by settling old debts, patching up grudges, restoring relationships, and resolving to not make the same mistakes again in the new year. Have you made any New Year's resolutions?
I am making only one, and it's on my calendar for next week to fulfill. I am going to update my will. It hasn't been re-drawn since my 2nd divorce, over 30 years ago. As I told my lawyer last week, "Utterly disgraceful!"
Setsubun - "sectional/seasonal division" - has marked the last day of winter in Japan since the 13th century, and is celebrated one day prior to the beginning of spring - either February 3rd or 4th, depending on the lunar calendar.
One of their more common traditions is to throw beans either in the air or at someone dressed as an 'oni' (devil) while shouting, "Oniwa sato, tukuwa uchi!", which means "Devil's out, good luck/happiness in!" After the beans are thrown, family members then pick up and eat the same number of beans as their ages, bringing good health, luck, and fortune for the new year.
(to be continued with "New Year's traditions - foods" coming later today)