Building peace in the minds of men and women

Happy New Year around the world

A voyage by 'magic carpet' to the festivals, rites and customs of many lands

For almost all people, the start of a new year is a special occasion, but whether we celebrate it on January 1 or on. any other day of the year, we arc following a custom which dates back to the very dawn of civilization. The New Year, in effect, falls on different days for different peoples. It may come in February or April, in June or September and everywhere the customs that go with it vary.

In its first issue of 1954, the Unesco Courier said: "If we could travel around the world on a magic carpet and peep at the celebrations in the various countries, what a wonderful variety of customs we should find. The Feast of the Lanterns concludes two weeks of a noisy, gay spectacle ushering in the new year for the Chinese who almost seem to be celebrating all their holidays of the year at once.

"In Japan, New Year's Day is even gayer. No matter how poor a Japanese may be he provides himself with spotless new clothes and takes several days off to visit old friends or entertain them .at home. Every gatepost is adorned with dark green pines and light green feathery bamboos while over the doorways hang vivid red lobsters and crabs, and scarlet tangerinc-like-fruits, symbolic of long life and happiness. The streets afe thronged with children laughing and playing the whole day long, and everyone beams with joy, bowing and offering best wishes even to perfect strangers.

"Scotland celebrates New Year's Eve with a heartiness rarely surpassed. The tradition that to be "first-foot" in a house brings luck for the whole year sends midnight revellers into the streets, each one carrying cakes and food and drink to ensure his host a bounteous. year. So, throughout the world, in the Orient, in Africa, in Europe and the New World, the New Year is celebrated with elaborate festivities. It is an occasion for making fine new resolutions alas, not always kept for forgetting the disappointments of the past twelve months, and for making a new start."

In the Arab world, the "new start" during' 1956 will be the year 1376. According to the Copt year in Egypt and Ethiopia it will be 1673; on the Jewish calendar it will be 5617; while in Japan it will be the 31st year of Showa (Emperor Hirohito will be known by this name after his death).

For Unesco, 1956 will mark the 10th anniversary of its creation, and its General Conference in New Delhi, India the first to be held in the Far East. In India, the great Festival of the Lights, known as Diwali, symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, of truth over untruth.

The Unesco Courier offers this symbol to its readers in re-affirming its own faith in the triumph of education and understanding between peoples over the forces of ignorance and obscurantism.


New Year gods and torchlight processions: Revellers in ancient Greece and Rome, by Gabrielle Cabrini

Rituals & symbols of Time reborn, by Mircea Eliade (online version)

How the gift idea started; New Year echoes round the world, by Claude Lévi-Strauss (online version)

New Year cards down the ages, by Françoise Christiaen

Ras Essana: 14 centuries of the Moslem faith

The five sleepless nights of Monghosan (Borneo)

Happy New Year in Bali: The gifts to the gods a re-eaten by mortals

Living ghosts of the Incas (New Year's Day in the Andes), by Alfred Métraux (online version)

India: land of many calendars, by Khushwant Singh

Lobsters for a long life; seaweed for a happy one (Japanese New Year Festival), by Shigeo Kimura

Lanterns, gongs and fireworks; a Chinese philosopher recalls his boyhood, by Lin Yutang (online version)

Tug of war with Himalayan spirits


December 1955

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