Happy New Year everyone… or as the Jewish folk say: ‘May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year’. Except they had their New Year in October. In fact, if you’re into the whole New Year’s Eve thing, you could—if you had the inclination and the liver for it—legitimately celebrate it all year. You’d have just enough time to get over your hangover from one New Year’s celebration before you moved on to the next one (and if you broke your New Year’s resolution you’d only have to wait a few weeks before you got a chance to make a new one!). Before people had a calendar they depended on all sorts of ways to mark the ‘New Year’, from the changing of the seasons to even the flight of wild geese. Ancient Egyptians celebrated the New Year at the time of the overflowing Nile. Tet in Vietnam is determined by the first new moon of the year. China also celebrates New Year with the new moon. And it’s there you could head after Tet to continue partying, because their New Year festivities last 15 days. You’d need a rest after all that, which is lucky, because there’s not much partying going on in the first days of March during the Balinese Saka New Year. The island is used to drunken revelry day and night, but during this ‘celebration’ the Balinese follow four Nyepi traditions: no light (or fire for cooking); no physical work; no entertainment (including music); and no leaving the home. Woo hoo, get out those party hats.
The wild party continues in Tibet on March 3rd, when locals make the journey to the Jokhang temple in Lhasa to donate yak butter (for beer in return, I hope). After that riotous celebration it’s straight to Iran for their New Year—or, as the locals call it, Chahar Shanbeh Suri (try saying that after a few beers). The New Year is the exact moment when the sun passes into the zodiac sign of the ram. This can happen in the middle of the day (so you could end up having the celebration and the hangover on the same day).
April has three big potential hangovers in a row (or one very big one), starting on the 13th when the Sikhs celebrate their New Year in the Punjab. The Bengalis have their shindig the next day, then it’s a quick trip to Thailand for Buddhist New Year on the 15th. Known locally as Songkran, the Thai version is basically a giant water fight in which the entire population throws water at each other.
In May it’s off to Baktapur in Nepal for Bisket Jatra. On the final day of the four-day festivities a ceremonial 25-metre tree trunk, roughly carved to resemble a penis, is hoisted into an upright position. Not only can this take hours, but the tree trunk sometimes crashes down on top of people. Now that would really leave you with a sore head in the morning.
Indian Hindus celebrate their New Year at the end of August. And then again in November. And February. And May. They celebrate New Year’s Eve four times a year (one for each change of season). Any old excuse for a piss-up, I say. On September 11th in Ethiopia they should be saying ‘Happy Old Year!’ Next year their calendar will be clicking over to 2002. Does that mean if I go there I will be seven years younger?
Our Jewish friends have a 10-day knees-up in late September or early October. I don’t know how much knees-upping goes on, though.
In early December, as part of the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Swaziland, the young men walk over 30 kilometres to gather branches from the sacred Lusekwane bush. If any of the men have made love to a married woman or made a young maiden pregnant, the leaves wither on the branch and the rest of the men will beat them.
Finally, you could follow the tradition of any one of over a hundred countries that celebrate the New Year on December 31st and . . . drink a hell of a lot of alcohol.
Happy New Year!