With time, we got to know that the dates for the Christmas and New Year were fixed for 25 December and 01 January respectively. The New Year’s Day, which is the first day of the year in this part of the world, is one of the oldest and most universally observed festivals. The New Year has often been welcomed with rites and ceremonies that express love and lots of jubilation over life’s renewal. Recorded history has it that New Year festivals have been celebrated for more than 5,000 years.
In modern times, New Year’s Day is a holiday in many countries and various customs and traditions are observed. New Year’s Eve provides an occasion for parties in homes, hotels and restaurants. At midnight, the New Year is ushered in with much noise and merrymaking. In Christian countries, the New Year has traditionally been observed with church services and the tolling of church bells.
The question of whether the New Year’s Day celebration has pagan or Christian connotation has not been resolved to finality. The views persist that the observation of New Year’s Day on 01 January is anchored on the modern Gregorian Calendar as well as the Julian Calendar used in the Roman Empire since 45 BC. Originally, the Romans dedicated New Year’s Day to Janus, the god of gates, doors and beginnings for whom the first month of the year (January) is named. To that extent, there is validity in the claim that the New Year’s Day celebrations are founded on pagan tradition.
On the other hand, as a date in the Gregorian calendar of the Christendom, New Year’s Day liturgically marked the feast of circumcision of Jesus Christ and this is still observed as such in many churches today. This gives the celebration enough Christian colouration.
History also maintains that after Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 46 BC and he was subsequently murdered, the Roman Senate voted in favour of deifying him on January 1 42 BC.
Most of the countries in Western Europe officially adopted January 1 as New Year’s Day before they adopted the Gregorian calendar. For instance, in England, until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, the first day of the New Year was the feast of Annunciation on March 25. The March 25 date was labeled the Annunciation Style while the January 1 date was known as Circumcision Style because this was the feast of circumcision considered to be the eighth day of Christ’s life, counting from December 25. This day was christened as the beginning of the New Year by Pope Gregory as he designed the Liturgical calendar.
The circumcision of Jesus Christ on the eighth day is congruent with the practice in Benin Kingdom where new born male babies are circumcised and named on the eighth day of life. Until recently, the baby girl was also circumcised and named on the eighth day of life.
Efforts to ban the shooting of fire crackers at Christmas and the New Year’s Day have remained largely unsuccessful. At the New Year celebrations held in Dubai to mark the beginning of 2014, the world record for the most fireworks set off in a single display was broken. That single display lasted for six minutes and it saw the use of over 500,000 fireworks!
Nothing in the foregoing suggests any consensus in the date and mode of celebration of the New Year’s Day worldwide. The dates and modes of celebration differ from one place to another. As we celebrate in Nigeria today, there are countries where nothing is happening; and there are some parts of the world where the celebration is taking a different dimension entirely. Space will permit us to examine only a few interesting variations:
In the Philippines, New Year’s Day is considered part of the Christmas holiday. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, earth-quaking noise is made with fire-crackers, horns and whatever material for noise is available. The horrendous noise is intended to dispel evil spirits and prevent them from bringing bad luck to the coming year.
Tables are laden with food for the midnight meal; and a basket of twelve different round fruits is displayed to symbolize prosperity in each of the coming twelve months. Public parties are organized by the city governments and they are usually free for all citizens.
In the Balinese Calendar, the New Year’s Day, usually celebrated around March 26, is called Nyepi. It is a day of silence, fasting and meditation. It is observed from 6 a.m. to 6 a.m. the following day. It is a day of self-reflection and nothing is allowed to interfere with it. Although Nyepi is a predominantly Hindu holiday, non-Hindus resident in Bali participate in it. Even tourists are not exempt: although they are free to do as they wish in their hotel rooms, no one is allowed into the beaches or streets. The only airport in Bali remains closed for the entire day.
The Water Festival is a New Year celebration that takes place in many Southeast Asian countries between 13-15 April. Originally, people sprinkled water on one another as a sign of love; but since the New Year’s Day comes during the hottest month of the year, many people end up dousing strangers and passersby in boisterous celebrations.
There is a related area where Nigeria has been wallowing in illegalities – the new Fiscal Year. Before 1981, the Fiscal Year in Nigeria was 01 April – 31 March of the following year. But the Financial Year Act 1981 changed our Financial Year to the Calendar Year: 01 January – 31 December. This Act has been obeyed more in the breach than in the observance. Year after year, particularly since the advent of the President Goodluck Jonathan Administration, operation of our annual budgets has been pushed far into the second half of the following year. Until we amend the current Financial Year Act, this practice remains illegal.
Here‘s wishing our esteemed readers happy New Year, a year full of contentment!

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