12 A.M.? 00:00 hours? Zero Hour?

Or, how about New Year’s Day? Whenever that is.

So, When IS It, Exactly?

Well, New Year’s Day is widely observed on January 1, the first day of the year on the modern Gregorian calendar – as well as the Julian calendar, used in Ancient Rome. January 1 on the Julian calendar now corresponds to January 14 on the Gregorian calendar. It is on this day that followers of some Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate the start of the New Year.

With most countries using the Gregorian calendar, New Year’s Day is the closest the world has to a truly global public holiday. Its arrival is widely celebrated with special events or activities to mark the stroke of midnight.

Some History; First

The ancient Romans dedicated January 1 to Janus, the god of gates, doors, and archways. Some scholars regard Janus as the god of all beginnings. The start of the day, month, or year were all sacred to him. A two-faced deity (literally; one face looked forward, the other backward), Janus lent his name to the month of January. His festival, the Agonium, actually took place on January 9. But, who’s counting?

New Year’s celebrations then, can be traced back to pagan roots. Among the 7th-century pagans of Flanders, and the Netherlands, it was customary to exchange gifts at the New Year.

In Western Europe, most countries officially adopted January 1 as New Year’s Day, before formally adopting the Gregorian calendar – which was proclaimed in 1582, by Pope Gregory XIII.

England did not officially adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752. Prior to this, the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25 was the first day of the new year. The day marks the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she was to be the mother of Jesus Christ.

January 1 was known as “Circumcision Style”, because it was the date of the Feast of the Circumcision. This was eight days after December 25 – when Jesus was believed to have been born – and would mark the day in Jewish traditional practice that the child would be circumcised.

The Night, Before

Since the 1900s, the New Year has also been an occasion to celebrate the night of December 31 – known as New Year’s Eve. The festivities culminate in a massive blow-out of enthusiasm, as the seconds tick by to midnight.

In European countries, the New Year is ushered in with private fireworks. Some regions light bonfires, in which discarded Christmas trees are burnt.

Public fireworks displays are held at this time, too.

In London, England, huge crowds gather along the Thames River Embankment, to watch the fireworks around the London Eye.

In the United States, the huge Times Square Ball – located high above Times Square, in New York – is progressively lowered, from 11:59 P.M. A countdown is held from :10 seconds until :01, when the ball reaches the foot of its tower. The New Year is announced at the stroke of midnight with fireworks, music, and a live celebration that is broadcast worldwide.

In Russia and the former Soviet republics, the celebration of Old New Year (Novi God) is done with fireworks, and champagne. Family feasts are held, with lavish food and gifts. The Russian president traditionally counts down the final seconds of the “old year”, in Moscow. The Kremlin’s Spassky Clock Tower chimes in the new year (It is customary to make a wish as it chimes), and the national anthem is played.

In the Philippines, fireworks, booming sound systems, and lots of noise generally, are used to scare evil spirits away – and prevent them from bringing bad luck to the coming year. Tables are laden with food for the midnight meal (Media Noce). This includes a basket of 12 different round fruits, to symbolize prosperity in each of the coming year’s months.

In Greece and Cyprus, families switch off their lights at midnight, and celebrate by cutting the vassilopita (“Basil’s pie”) – which usually contains one lucky coin, or token. After the pie is eaten, a traditional game of cards, called triantaena, is played.

People in some countries – notably Canada, the Republic of Ireland (Eire), the United Kingdom, United States, and the Netherlands – gather on beaches, and run into the water, to celebrate the New Year. These events are sometimes known as polar bear plunges, because the weather in these areas is often very cold, at this time.

January, First

Having made the transition through midnight, special events typically continue throughout the day, itself. Parades, concerts, religious services; it all happens.

Plus, sports.

In England, a full schedule of fixtures is usually played in football’s Premier League (EPL), and the rest of the League and Non-League systems.

In the USA, January 1 is the date traditionally set aside for many post-season college football (American football, or gridiron, that is) bowl games. These are usually accompanied by parades and other festivities.

Baby, It’s You

Kid's got a long way, to go....

In the Brittany region of France, a common image used is that of Father Time (or the “Old Year”), wearing a sash on his chest with the previous year printed on it. Father Time passes his duties on to the Baby New Year – an infant wearing a sash with the new year printed on it.

People born on New Year’s Day are often called New Year babies. Many hospitals give out prizes – which might be baby-related items like diapers, blankets,  or gift certificates – to the first baby born in their Maternity wards in the New Year.

Other Places, Other Days

Chinese New Year is the first day of the lunar calendar, and is corrected for the solar, every three years. It is celebrated in many countries around the world – usually between 20 January and 20 February. Families celebrate the holiday with feasting, lucky red envelopes (filled with money; that’s pretty fortunate!), and other red items, as red symbolizes good luck. Lion and dragon dances, drums, fireworks, and entertaining activities fill the streets, on this day.

The Hindu New Year occurs when the Sun enters Aries, on the Hindu calendar. This is usually on April 13 or 14, depending on the leap year. It is celebrated by paying respect to parents and elders, and seeking their blessings. Tokens of good wishes are exchanged, for a healthy and prosperous year, ahead.

Ethiopian New Year is called Enqutatash. The Ethiopians use their own, ancient calendar, on which the holiday occurs on September 11 or 12, based on the leap year. The New Year hails the end of the summer season.

And so on.

Wherever you are – and whatever date signifies the birth of a New Year, to you – I wish you health, hope, and happiness.

Happy New Year!