Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is one of my favorite holidays. There are actually four “New Years” in the Jewish tradition for those that might not be familiar. According to the Mishnah, The first of Nissan is the new year for kings and for festivals - corresponding to the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt and the birth of the Israelite nation; The first of Elul is the new year for the tithe of cattle; The first of Tishri is the new year for the civil calendar, and “the new year for terms” - for years, for shmitta and jubilee years; The fifteenth of Shevat is the new year for trees - for designating fruits as orlah and for separating fruits for tithing.
The start of a new year brings out many reflections and resolutions. I thought it would be an interesting topic to research how some other countries and religions celebrate their new years. Much of my research came from Scholastic.com, Wikipedia, and AccuNews. In America, the new year is celebrated on January 1. Many people stay up late on new years eve to see the old year out and the new year in. Almost everywhere in the world, church bells ring, horns toot, whistles blow, sirens shriek. London’s Trafalgar Square and New York City’s Times Square swarm with crowds of people in high holiday spirits.
A special three-day water festival marks “Songkran,” the Buddhist celebration of the new year in Thailand. Parades feature huge statues of Buddha that spray water on bystanders. All Buddha statues and images are also cleansed for good luck and prosperity. In small villages, young people throw water at each other, while others also release fish into rivers as acts of kindness. The water is symbolic in the hopes that is will bring good rain in the new year.
Many Chinese children dress in new clothes to celebrate the “Lunar New Year,” also known as the “Spring Festival.” People carry lanterns and join in a huge parade led by a silk dragon, the Chinese symbol of strength. In the Chinese lunar calendar, each of the 12 years is named after an animal. According to legend, Lord Buddha asked all the animals to come to him before leaving the earth. Only 12 animals came to wish him farewell, and as a reward Buddha named a year after each one.
The Islamic New Year, also known as the “Hijri” new year, falls on Muharram’s first day, which is the first month in the Islamic calendar. Special prayers are said, and the appearance of the new moon is recorded in mosques.
The Ethiopian New Year - also called “Enkutatash,” meaning the “gift of jewels,” consists of dancing, singing, and celebrations as the people celebrate this spring festival. Some cities have spectacular religious celebrations, although it is not exclusively a religious holiday.
The Bengali’s in India celebrate “Pahela Baishakh” in April, which is at the beginning of their harvest season. Celebrations are held on the first day of Baishakh, the first month of the Bengali calendar. The Bengalis perform cultural performances and have feast days, while the Sikhs celebrate with singing, dancing, and reciting from their sacred book.
In other areas of India, and throughout the world, Sikhs, Hindus, and Jains celebrate “Diwali” - This festival of lights. Different cultures celebrate Diwali for various reasons; to Hindus, for example, it signifies a celebration of the triumph of good over evil after Rama, the lord of virtue, returned to his kingdom following 14 years of exile. Families share sweets and give gifts to those in need.
For most of us, Rosh Hashanah is considered a time of rejoicing, introspection, and celebrating the completion of another year, while praying for a favorable new year. In preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest in the Jewish year, Jews try to atone for any wrongdoing and to genuinely forgive one another. As one can see, the way we celebrate our new year is truly unique and unparalleled. It should give everyone pause to think about their true priorities in life, and what they wish to improve upon in the year ahead. With that, I wish everyone an amazing new year full of health, happiness, success, and blessing in all of their needs. Shout out and happy birthday to Yonatan Isser, David Lederer, Danny Levine, Isaac Miller, Elliot Steinmetz, and Anat Wexler.
Shmuel Shayowitz (NMLS#19871) is President and Chief Lending Officer at Approved Funding, a privately held local mortgage banker and direct lender. Approved Funding is a mortgage company offering competitive interest rates as well as specialty niche programs on all types of Residential and Commercial properties. Shmuel has over 20 years of industry experience, including licenses and certifications as a certified mortgage underwriter, residential review appraiser, licensed real estate agent, and direct FHA specialized underwriter. He can be reached via email at [email protected]