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Cultures That Don't Celebrate New Year's Day On January 1

Historical Facts | December 28, 2020

Performers take part in the traditional dragon-and-drums Chinese new year parade. (Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images)

As midnight approaches on December 31, the eyes of most of the world are on the clock, counting down the final moments of the year. Not all countries celebrates the new year on January 1, however.

Chinese New Year

The Chinese calendar is based on the lunar year, not the solar year of the Western world's Gregorian calendar, and Chinese New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. That means the the date changes from year to year, but the celebration, which typically occurs in February, is so full of delicious food and beautiful sights like bright lanterns and colorful dancing dragons that non-Chinese cultures around the world have gotten in on the fun in recent years.

(Chanticleer Garden/Wikimedia Commons)

Meskerem

The African nations of Ethiopia and Eritrea celebrate the new year on September 11 of our calendar, which is known to them as Meskerem. It corresponds with the end of the rainy season, which is always a cause for celebration, as well as the date the Queen of Sheba returned to Ethiopia after her travels to Jerusalem to meet with King Solomon in 980 B.C.E, so there's plenty of reason to party down. The day is typically celebrated with a morning at church followed by a big meal and an afternoon picking and exchanging daisies, which bloom in September in the region.

(Chamal N/Wikimedia Commons)

Aluth Avurudda

In Sri Lanka, the welcoming of the new year, known as Aluth Avurudda, is observed by the Sinhalese people on April 13 or 14, depending on the arrival of the new moon. To celebrate the start of the year, which also marks the beginning of spring, the Sinhalese people boil a clay pot full of milk until it overflows as a symbol of prosperity. The day is also a time for gathering with friends and family and feasting on sweet treats and plantains.

(Arief Rahman Saan/Wikimedia Commons)

Nyepi

Bali is known for its glorious beaches and exciting nightlife, so it may seem like a great place to celebrate New Year's Eve, but Bali follows its own calendar, so you'd better be able to wait until March. Don't expect anything exciting, either. The Balinese new year, called Nyepi, is known as the Day of Silence. Instead of parties, dancing, and feasting, Nyepi is a day for meditation and self-reflection. No one goes to work or travels, televisions are kept off, and most people fast for the day.

(Vahid Sarabi/Wikimedia Commons)

Nowruz

Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, is one of humanity's oldest holidays, dating back more than 5,000 years. It takes place on the spring equinox, when families gather to eat a seven-course meal, color eggs, and light candles for each other, but the day before, Iranians traditionally stop by the graves of their departed relatives to clean and tend to the sites. They may even plant flowers and trees in honor of the dead. In more recent times, Iranians have taken Nowruz as an opportunity for spring cleaning, literally getting rid of the old to make room for the new.

(Gilabrand/Wikimedia Commons)

Rosh Hashanah

On the Hebrew calendar, Rosh Hashanah is the start of the new year. The date varies slightly from year to year, but it usually falls in late September or early October and honors the end of the seven days that, according to the Book of Genesis, were needed to create the heavens and Earth. While celebrations are mostly reflective and pensive in nature, celebrants might eat apples and honey, as these items symbolize prosperity.

(Sam Sith/Wikimedia Commons)

Chol Chnam Thmey

Cambodia's new year celebration, Chol Chnam Thmey, is three days long, beginning on April 13 and coinciding with the beginning of the traditional solar calendar used in places like Thailand, Laos, Nepal, and parts of India and Bangladesh. It typically marks the end of the harvest but occurs before the rainy season begins, making it a rare time when farmers can relax and enjoy the fruits of their labors. Rather than a wild, three-day party, Cambodians celebrate Chol Chnam Thmey by visiting temples, practicing ritual purification ceremonies, and spending quiet time with their families.

(Bradshaw Art/Wikimedia Commons)

Murador New Year

The Murador people, a now-extinct Aboriginal tribe from Western Australia, welcomed the start of the new year with celebrations held on October 30. Today, the event is celebrated by only a small community, but what remains of the Murador culture tells us the day was marked by spending time with friends, giving thanks for the previous year, and forgiving one's enemies. 

(Rartat/Wikimedia Commons)

Tsagaan Sar

The celebration of the new year in Mongolia, Tsagaan Sar, begins on February 16 and lasts an impressive 15 days as Mongolians mend loose ends from the previous year: forgiving enemies, renewing lost friendships, patching up disputes, paying off debts, and reconnecting with family members. The timing of Tsagaan Sar, which translates to "White Moon," is based on the Mongolian lunisolar calendar and corresponds with the first through third days of the first month of the lunar calendar.

(Vitt Guziy/Wikimedia Commons)

Old New Year

The Eastern Orthodox Church—which claims prominent populations in Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, and Macedonia, to name a few—turned one skeptical eye to the Gregorian calendar, went "Nah," and stuck with the Julian. As a result, their new year (or our old one) begins on our January 14. For followers of the Orthodox Church, the new year celebration is a time for feasting, drinking, singing, and dancing.

(Korean Culture and Information Service/Wikimedia Commons)

Korean New Year

Seollal is a three-day festival in South Korea that begins, like Chinese New Year, on the second new moon following the winter solstice. South Koreans celebrate by dressing in colorful traditional clothing, performing tea rituals, preparing traditional food, playing ancient games, and praying for good fortune in the coming year. 

(Fadi El Benni/Wikimedia Commons)

Islamic New Year

According to tradition, the first Islamic year began in 622 C.E., when the Prophet Muhammad traveled from Mecca to Medina. The day, which is called Ra's as-Sanah al-Hijriyah and whose date varies from year to year based on the lunar cycle, is honored by fasting, praying, and meditating.

Tags: culture | historical facts | New Year

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.