Written by: on December 28, 2020 @ 8:00 am

Image Source: Pixabay.com

It is almost New Year’s eve! Although most people are happy to be saying goodbye to the year 2020, it has certainly been a year to remember! Of course, when we talk about New Year’s eve, the words of Auld Lang Syne will surely come up! Why is that? What’s the song about?

This song’s melody is synonymous with the new year (and the theme of change) in the English-speaking world, despite nearly incomprehensible words. The problem is that the text on which the song is based is not in English at all — it’s 18th-century Scots, a similar but distinct language responsible for lyrics in the song such as “We twa hae run about the braes / and pou’d the gowans fine” that are utterly incomprehensible to Americans.

But the story of how an 18th-century Scottish ballad became synonymous with the new year is tangled, involving both Calvinist theology’s traditional aversion to Christmas and the uniquely central role that watching television plays in American New Year’s celebrations. Bridging the gap is a once-famous, now-forgotten Canadian big band leader who for decades defined New Year’s Eve and transformed a Scottish folk custom into a global phenomenon.

“Should old acquaintance be forgot?” is a rhetorical question the song asks?

The answer is that it’s a rhetorical question. The song is asking whether old friends should be forgotten, as a way of stating that obviously one should not forget one’s old friends. The version of the song we sing today is based on a poem published by Robert Burns, which he attributed to “an old man’s singing,” noting that it was a traditional Scottish song. 

So, remember to not forget about your old friends! And on that note, let’s dive deeper into the cultural history of New Years.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Assarhadon – Babylon

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. In 45 B.C., New Year’s Day is celebrated on January 1 for the first time in history as the Julian calendar takes effect.

Soon after becoming Roman dictator, Julius Caesar decided that the traditional Roman calendar was in dire need of reform. Introduced around the seventh century B.C., the Roman calendar attempted to follow the lunar cycle but frequently fell out of phase with the seasons and had to be corrected. In addition, the college of priests, the Roman body charged with overseeing the calendar, often abused its authority by adding days to extend political terms or interfere with elections.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Chinese New Year

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. 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. Festivities traditionally last 15 days and tend to center on the home and the family. People clean their houses to rid them of bad luck, and some repay old debts as a way of settling the previous year’s affairs. To encourage an auspicious start to the year they also decorate their doors with paper scrolls and gather with relatives for a feast. Following the invention of gunpowder in the 10th century, the Chinese were also the first to ring in the New Year with fireworks. Since Chinese New Year is still based on a lunar calendar that dates to the second millennium BC, the holiday typically falls in late January or early February on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Each year is associated with one of 12 zodiacal animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Modern celebrations of the Lunar New Year include the tradition of giving the gift of a bright, beautiful red envelope (known as hóngbāo) to your friends and family. These envelopes are filled with money – and symbolize good wishes, luck, and prosperity for the new year ahead.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Nowruz Table

In Iran and other parts of the Middle East and Asia, the roots of Nowruz (or “New Day”) reach far back into antiquity. Often called the “Persian New Year,” this 13-day spring festival falls on or around the vernal equinox in March and is believed to have originated in modern day Iran as part of the Zoroastrian religion. Official records of Nowruz did not appear until the 2nd century, but most historians believe its celebration dates back as far as the 6th century B.C. and the rule of the Achaemenid Empire. Unlike many other ancient Persian festivals, Nowruz persisted as an important holiday even after Iran’s conquest by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. and the rise of Islamic rule in the 7th century A.D.

Ancient observances of Nowruz focused on the rebirth that accompanied the return of spring. Traditions included feasts, exchanging presents with family members and neighbors, lighting bonfires, dyeing eggs, and sprinkling water to symbolize creation. One unique ritual that arose around the 10th century involved electing a “Nowruzian Ruler”: a commoner who would pretend to be king for several days before being “dethroned” near the end of the festival. Nowruz has evolved considerably over time, but many of its ancient traditions—particularly the use of bonfires and colored eggs—remain a part of the modern holiday, which is observed by an estimated 300 million people each year.

Image Source: Pixabay.com
Hatshepsut

In the same region, 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 a time of rebirth and rejuvenation, and it was honored with feasts and special religious rites.

Not unlike many people today, the Egyptians may have also used this as an excuse for getting a bit tipsy. Recent discoveries at the Temple of Mut show that during the reign of Hatshepsut the first month of the year played host to a “Festival of Drunkenness.” This massive party was tied to the myth of Sekhmet, a war goddess who had planned to kill all of humanity until the sun god Ra tricked her into drinking herself unconscious. In honor of mankind’s salvation, the Egyptians would celebrate with music, revelry, and—perhaps most important of all—copious amounts of beer.

As you look toward 2021, no matter how you choose to celebrate, we at High Touch High Tech – Science Made Fun, wish each one of you a safe, happy, and joyous New Year!

And if you’d like to kick off the new year with your very own fireworks, try out our at-home experiment, “Exploding Colors”!

Find a list of what you need and instructions here: https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/Exploding_Colors.pdf

You can also watch our “How To” video here:
https://youtu.be/QSBsGSYUKLY

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Catogories: Experiments: Science Made Fun, Seasons, Uncategorized

Leave a Reply