24.12.16

Ancient New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve in Greece has many traditions. During the day, children sing the New Year's carols to be given money or treat. Then, it is time to have family lunch or dinner. In the evening, people cook a pie named "King's pie (Vassilopita locally)", which is a cake flavored with almonds. Following tradition, they put a coin wrapped in aluminium foil inside the pie.

During the family dinner, the hostess puts some of her jewelry in a plate and serves it in the side of the table, as a symbol of the coming year's prosperity. After the dinner is over, the dish is not washed until the next day. The reason for that is that Saint Vassilis (Greek Santa Claus) is awaited during the New Year's Eve and it is considered common courtesy to leave some food for the traveler who visits the house to bring the presents during the night.

When midnight arrives, the families count down and then they turn off all the lights and reopen their eyes to "enter the year with a new light". After the fireworks show, they cut the "Vassilopita" and serve it. The person that gets the wrapped coin is the lucky person of the day and he is also blessed for the rest of the year. Gifts exchanges may follow.


New Year's Day, also called simply New Year's or New Year, is observed on January 1, the first day of the year on the modern Gregorian calendar as well as the Julian calendar.

The first of January wasn’t always seen as the start of the new year—that was the work of Julius Caesar, when he adopted the Julian calendar in 46 B.C. Perhaps not so coincidentally, there was something else happening at nearly the same time: an event that would become known as the “Feast of Circumcision.” Most of our readers are probably aware that Jesus’s birth was not actually December 25, but was set there by the Roman Catholic church to overlap the pagan solstice festival. It’s very convenient, then, that the Law of Moses says all male children should be circumcised eight days after birth—the “Feast of Circumcision” could be held on January 1, and overlap similar pagan new year celebrations.

The earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new year’s arrival date back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox—the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness—heralded the start of a new year. They marked the occasion with a massive religious festival called Akitu (derived from the Sumerian word for barley, which was cut in the spring) that involved a different ritual on each of its 11 days. In addition to the new year, Atiku celebrated the mythical victory of the Babylonian sky god Marduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat and served an important political purpose: It was during this time that a new king was crowned or that the current ruler’s divine mandate was symbolically renewed.

One of the oldest traditions still celebrated today is Chinese New Year, which is believed to have originated over 3,000 years ago during the Shang Dynasty. The holiday began as a way of celebrating the new beginnings of the spring planting season, but it later became entangled with myth and legend. According to one popular tale, there was once a bloodthirsty creature called Nian—now the Chinese word for “year”—that preyed on villages every New Year. In order to frighten the hungry beast, the villagers took to decorating their homes with red trimmings, burning bamboo and making loud noises. The ruse worked, and the bright colors and lights associated with scaring off Nian eventually became integrated into the celebration.

Ancient Egyptian culture was closely tied to the Nile River, and it appears their New Year corresponded with its annual flood. According the Roman writer Censorinus, the Egyptian New Year was predicted when Sirius—the brightest star in the night sky—first became visible after a 70-day absence. Better known as a heliacal rising, this phenomenon typically occurred in mid-July just before the annual inundation of the Nile River, which helped ensure that farmlands remained fertile for the coming year. Egyptians celebrated this new beginning with a festival known as Wepet Renpet, which means “opening of the year.” The New Year was seen as a time of rebirth and rejuvenation, and it was honored with feasts and special religious rites.

Nowruz is still a holiday that is celebrated globally, and it has the distinction of being one of the—if not the—longest continually celebrated holiday in the world. There are records of Nowruz being celebrated in 550 B.C. by Cyrus the Great, but versions of it were also known to be observed 2,000 years earlier, in the ancient Kingdom of Aratta.

The early Roman calendar consisted of 10 months and 304 days, with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox; according to tradition, it was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C. A later king, Numa Pompilius, is credited with adding the months of Januarius and Februarius. Over the centuries, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. the emperor Julius Caesar decided to solve the problem by consulting with the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of his time. He introduced the Julian calendar, which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.

As part of his reform, Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honor the month’s namesake: Janus -chief among the ancient Roman deities. This two-faced god (one looking ahead, one looking behind), was honored by having his chief festival on the first day of the new year. Fittingly, the Roman celebrants took their cue from Janus, and spent the day looking both backwards, in reflections, and ahead, in planning for the new year.They also believed that what they sowed on the first day of the new year would carry with them throughout the rest of the year. Thus, it was a day of giving presents, abstaining from impure or cruel thoughts, postponing and ending quarrels, and generally trying to be nice to each other. Presents and foods were given freely to others and in tribute to Janus


Ancient Greeks were not that much into celebrating the New Year rather than the “sickle of the new moon” upon recognizing the visible new moon as the beginning of each month, a custom held in honor of Selene, Apollon Noumenios, Hestia and the other household Gods, also known as noumenia.

tromaktikoIn Athens, however, there was an epigraph found reading of a religious ceremony that used to take place on the beginning of the New Year, or better said on the last day of the outgoing year, which involved only a small number of people. The celebration was a sacrifice of the outgoing officials to Zeus the Savior and Athena the Savior, which aimed at ensuring the blessings and favor of the two gods for the coming new year.

It was not until ancient Roman times and while Rome grew in power, that the New Year festivities began to become extremely popular. The celebration known as the Saturnalia, a time of revelings, drinking bouts, orgies and human sacrifice in honor of god Saturn, was instituted as the festival of January 1st by Julius Caesar in 46BC upon deciding to adopt the Julian calendar. The popularity of the celebration was spread in all corners of the Roman Empire and continued with minor local and time alterations to integrate in the customs of all peoples within the Empire’s boundaries, including ancient Greece.

It was Julius Caesar and the broad knowledge of Sosigenes of Alexandria, an astronomer whom Julius Caesar consulted for the design of the Julian calendar, that are responsible for bringing the year count into conformity with the sun course. All in all, the sequence, duration and names of the months we use today are much owed to the perception and insight of the great Roman politician and strategist.

In classical Greece every city-state used its own calendar with different month names, beginnings of the year, and intercalations. However, most of the calendars shared some common features. The Greeks used lunisolar calendars with years of 12 or 13 months resulting in a 354-day calendar. A month could be hollow or full with 29 or 30 days respectively. Periodically it was required for an extra month to be intercalated to keep the calendar in line with the circuit of the seasons.

In the most well known and historically substantiated Athenian calendar , the civil calendar, (there were other two calendars as well), the intercalated month came after the annual month named Poseidon. It was known as Second Poseidon. Some months were named after the festivals celebrated:

Hekatombaion
Metageitnion
Boedromion
Pyanopsion
Maimakterion
Poseideon (intercalated month)
Gamelion
Anthesterion
Elaphebolion
Mounychion
Thargelion
Skirophorion
The year began on the first visibility of the crescent after the first new moon following the summer solstice. Intercalation followed no fixed pattern, although several cycles were known in Greece.

Krios (Crius)And Iasion
Both Krios and Iasion are associated with the coming of the new year in ancient Greece. Krios was one of the titans, typically depicted with a ram’s horns, and inevitably connected with the constellation Aries. Aries was the first of the constellations to appear in the springtime sky, cementing Krios’s association with the new year.Iasion was a demigod, son of Zeus and one of his many consorts. Iasion himself was the consort of the agricultural goddess Demeter; according to the story, Iasion and Demeter consummated their relationship in a thrice-plowed field; after Zeus heard of it, he killed Iasion. In honor of Demeter and Iasion, cutting three furrows in fields to be planted that spring became an important part of the many fertility rites performed to welcome in the new year.

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