Ah, the New Year.
Is there anything better than the feeling of possibility and refreshment that comes from waking up on the first day of the new year?
If you’re anything like me, you celebrate New Year’s by creating epic lists of everything you want to accomplish in the next 365 days, few of which you’ll actually achieve (why would anyone want to drink kale juice every single day of the year?!).
And while the proliferation of “New Year, New You,” may seem to have been fueled by the ease of social sharing in the digital age, the idea that we get a fresh start in the new year is a tale as old as time. New year celebrations throughout history have always highlighted the idea that the passage of time is something to be celebrated.
Let’s take a look at four New Year’s celebrations from different cultures, past and present.
Thousands of years ago in Ancient Babylon, the New Year was a time to celebrate the king’s power…by publicly humiliating him.
The king would be brought to a statue of the god Marduk, stripped, yelled at, and dragged by his ears (literally) with the hopes of making him cry. If the king shed some tears, that meant Marduk (who was apparently kind of a dick) was satisfied and would grant the king another year of rule.
Basically, the new year celebrations were the one time of the year it was worse to be the king than a common person. While the king was getting chastised by priests, the rest of the Babylonians celebrating a multi-day festival called Akitu with parades, feasts, and all of their clothes.
For Ancient Egyptians, the New Year corresponded with the annual flooding of the Nile River, which usually occurred during modern-day July.
Like many of us modern folks, the Egyptians celebrated the New Year by giving themselves a clean slate… after getting super drunk. Discoveries at the Temple of Mut tell us about a month-long “Festival of Drunkenness” during the first month of every year while the pharaoh Hatshepsut reigned.
The “Festival of Drunkenness” included sex, music, and, obviously, lots of alcohol, which basically cements Hatshepsut’s status in our eyes both as a badass bitch and one of our favorite Egyptian pharaohs.
Chinese New Year
Many of the Chinese New Year traditions that started around 3,000 years ago during the Shang dynasty are still celebrated today.
According to legend, the red decorations and loud noises we associate today with Chinese New Year were originally introduced to scare off a bloodthirsty creature named “Nian.” Nian came down from his mountain every year during the New Year to destroy homes, eat livestock, and murder children… basically, the typical evil beast sh*t.
The villagers rightfully feared Nian, until an old man that turned out to be a god let them in on a little secret: Nian was a wimp. Sure, he might love to eat kids, but he was also easily scared by loud noises and the color red. So, the villagers started to decorate their homes with red, and have music, firecrackers, and parades in the street to keep Nian away.
The villagers’ tactics worked, and to this day, many Chinese people celebrate the New Year with the same vibrant festivities.
The New Year is the holiest time of the year for Jewish people.
Rosh Hashanah, the actual New Year, marks the beginning of a ten day period where people reflect on the questionable things they did the year before and try to make up for them. This ten day period ends with Yom Kippur, which is a day of prayer and fasting that’s meant to cleanse sins from the last year and set you up for success in the next.
The food Jewish people traditionally eat during the New Year is symbolic: apples dipped in honey are thought to bring about a sweet new year, while round challah may be eaten to symbolize the circle of life, meaning that Rosh Hashanah is both a meaningful and delicious time of year.
Out With The Old, In With The New
Whether celebrating the New Year popping bottles of champagne or doing some intense reflection on the meaning of your life, there’s something powerful about starting off with a clean slate.
How are you celebrating the New Year? Tell us in the comments!