YOUNG WORLD

All about dates

USHA NARAYANAN

All about dates

If someone were to ask you, "When do we celebrate New Year?" what would you say? "January 1, of course!" wondering why you were being asked such a stupid question. New Year has been celebrated on January 1 only for the last 400 years or so — after Pope Gregory introduced the new calendar in 1562. Four thousand years before that, the Babylonians first started celebrating New Year — but in late March, at the beginning of spring. The Romans observed New Year in March, though each of the emperors tampered with the calendar till it became totally out of tune with the seasons. Finally, to set the calendar right, Julius Caesar declared January 1 to be the New Year in honour of Janus, the gatekeeper of heaven and earth. Have you seen a picture of Janus? He's the god with two faces, one looking back to the old year and the other looking ahead to the new one. And in order to set the calendar right, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for 445 days!

Did you know that April Fool's Day came into existence only because of this change of date? Some people who were not aware of the change continued to celebrate New Year on April 1. Others made fun of them and played tricks on them and this day came to be known as April Fool's Day! Though the Romans celebrated New Year, the Church did not approve of the practice for a long time. So, it is approximately during the last 400 years that the Western world started celebrating this day.

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Some fun facts

* The tradition of making new year resolutions began when the Romans who indulged in wild and crazy parties, came up with the convenient excuse that they could always start afresh in the New Year.

* Another interesting belief is that what we eat or do on the first day of the year will affect our luck for the rest of the year. This is why we celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of family and friends, greeting them as the clock strikes 12.

* Some people even think that the first visitor on New Year's Day will bring either good or bad luck for the rest of the year. And who would bring you the maximum good luck? The answer is _ a tall dark-haired man!

* And what should you eat to be lucky? Well, doughnuts for one! Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolises coming full circle, completing a year's cycle. That's why the Dutch eat doughnuts on New Year's Day.

* Well, doughnuts are fun but did you know that eating cabbages could bring you good luck? And if you can't stand the thought of eating cabbage, you can console yourself by eating rice. For it's considered a lucky food too!

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Want to hear about some more beliefs?

* Children in Puerto Rico throw pails of water out the window at midnight to drive away evil spirits.

* The Spanish eat 12 grapes for good luck when the clock strikes 12.

* The Swiss believe that good luck comes from letting a drop of cream land on the floor on New Year's Day.

* The French eat a stack of pancakes for good luck.

* And the Romanians believe that they will be lucky if they hear no talking animals!

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