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It's party time across the globe; The birth of a new year holds significance for people of all nations. Alun Prichard ,Abigail Hughes and Gareth Bicknell take a whirlwind trip to see how it's celebrated worldwide.

Byline: Alun Prichard ,Abigail Hughes and Gareth Bicknell

NEW Year was first celebrated by the ancient Babylonians in around 2000 BC. While most of the western world follows the Gregorian calendar,beginning each new year on January 1, this date has no astronomical or agricultural significance.

The Babylonians saw spring as the natural time to start a new cycle, so their year began with the first new moon after the Vernal Equinox.

To celebrate the New Year, the king was stripped of his robes for a few days while the people partied. And while binge-drinking Britons will be nursing industrial hangovers this morning -the perennial effect of the brief remittance of draconian First World War licensing laws -the Babylonians really celebrated in style, with festivities lasting 11 days.

Nowadays most Western countries mark the event with a dangerous combination of alcohol and fireworks,but many nations have more perilous traditions.

In Mexico it is customary to fire a rifle into the air; in Denmark the aim is to leap off a chair at the stroke of midnight; in Naples it is traditional to throw pots and dishes out of windows; and in Moscow's Red Square empty vodka bottles are launched into the air at midnight.

And perhaps the quietest new year celebrations take place in Hastings, New Zealand,one of the first towns to welcome the new year, which hosts an alcohol-freeevening.

Rather than slur through Auld Lang's Syne, revellers inHastings dance, tell stories, recite poetry and watch films.

The one common theme throughout the world is food. Armenians drop baskets of treats down their neighbours' chimneys while the Dutch share doughnuts and Norwegians tuck into a meal of dried cod,mashed peas,bacon, mustard and boiled potatoes.

VIETNAM

The Vietnamese attach great importance to the welcoming in of another year.Tet, which means the morning of the first day of the new year, usually starts inFebruary and lasts for seven days. But preparation for the festivities begin well in advance.

Houses are cleaned to get rid of the bad fortune associated with the old year,families paint their homes and pay homage to the Kitchen God, and it is a time for paying debts and patching up differences with old friends.

THE PHILIPPINES

Revellers in these South East Asian islands look forward to a midnight feast as the new year begins, with displays of fireworks welcoming in a fresh beginning.

The meal symbolises prosperity and the joy for the future,and families often have 12 pieces of fruit on the table -one for each month of the year.

At midnight,people jump as high as they can in the the air, a custom dating back to times when they believed it would make them grow taller and stronger.

ECUADOR

Every year Ecuadorians make Anos Viejos, scarecrow- like figures made of old clothes and newspaper with elaborate masks that represent hate figures, usually politicians. They are placed outside each house in various silly poses until New Year's Eve, when they are all gathered together and set alight at midnight,burning away the bad of the year just ended. Following the Spanish custom practised throughout South America party goers are also supposed to eat 12 grapes,one with each chime of the clock at midnight,and wear yellow underwear for luck.

BRAZIL

Named after a river and dependent on the ocean,it is hardly surprising that New Year's celebrations in Rio de Janeiro are focused on the sea. December 31 in Rio is Fest a de Lemanja,a homage to Lemanja the goddess of the water and the mother of all gods in the Brazilian Umbanda religion. Small boats on which offerings of flowers,perfume, rice and sugarcane alcohol are put are cast adrift into the sea from Copacabana beach.

JAMAICA

Rastafarians in Jamaica celebrate new year according to their religion which sees the late Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie as a manifestation of God. The Ethiopian new year or Enkutatash falls on September 11 which marks the end of the three months of rain in Ethiopia. On that date across Jamaica,Rastafarians spend the day drumming and chanting in Selassie's name.

JAPAN

Unlike the rest of the Far East, which celebrates the lunar new year,Japan adopted the Western calendar system in the 1800s and so welcomes in the new year on January 1. Shortly before midnight on the last day of the year the bells in Buddhist temples chime 108 times, which represent the hardships and sorrows of the past year.

After the final chime the new year officially begins. The Japanese take the event seriously and most shops and factories close for almost a week. Befitting the land of the rising sun tradition expects the Japanese to make a trip to the ocean to see the Hatsu Hinode -first sunrise of the year -which brings good luck.

INDIA

Indian new year is called Diwali and is celebrated toward the end of October or beginning of November and marks Prince Rama's victory over an evil king.

It is the most widely celebrated festival in India and sees the lighting of oil lamps on windowsills, the visiting of family and giving of homemade sweets. Many Hindus will also leave shrines by their beds on new year's eve so they can wakeup to beautiful things.

SOUTH POLE

Because the South Pole scientific station sits on an ice sheet which moves 30 feet each year, the steel pole which marks the actual South Pole is repositioned by scientists every January 1 in a small ceremony.

IRAN,KURDISH IRAQ AND KURDISH TURKEY Persian New Year -Norooz -begins on the first day of spring.

Ceremonies symbolise two ancient concepts of the end and rebirth. In preparation householders clean their homes,make new clothes,bake pastries and germinate seeds as signs of renewal. Revellers don make-up and satin outfits to parade in a musical carnival through the streets to spread good cheer. A ceremonial cloth is set up in houses and seven dishes -representing rebirth,health, happiness,prosperity,joy,patience and beauty -are laid out. Other important symbols include a basket of painted eggs for fertility,coins for prosperity, a goldfish in a bowl for life and a flask of rose water for cleansing.

SCOTLAND

Here,Hogmany celebrations far outweigh the excitement of Christmas. Parties can last for days and midnight is heralded with cannon firing and the sounding of ship sirens. It is traditional to leave your home and visit -or first foot -the neighbours. Whisky,a lump of coal and food like oat cakes or shortbread are taken as gifts.

Ideally,first footers should be tall,

dark and handsome.

CAMBODIA

Celebrations -which usually fall in mid April and combine prayer,food and games -last three days and begin with prayers at home in front of the family altar, which is covered with candles,incense,flowers,fruit and perfumed water to receive the New Year Angel. Later,families head to the temple and after a sermon play traditional games like tug of war and scarf tossing. After sunset, the community builds a mountain of sand inside the temple -the higher the hill, the more wealth will be amassed.

WALES

According to tradition,how folk behave on January 1 is an indication of how they will act in the year a head. The first visitors through your front door after midnight are very significant. Watch out if the guest is a woman,or a red- head. Black -haired strangers,on the other hand,are thought to bring luck.

Try an old fashioned New Year's Day custom until noon. Call at friends' homes carrying evergreen twigs and a cup of well water. The twigs are used to splash householders with the water and in return you should be given a small gift. On January 6, theFeast of the Epiphany is celebrated. Follow the forefathers and bake a cake with a ring hidden in it. Cut it into three parts -representing Christ, theVirgin Mary and the Wise Men -and hand out to family and friends. The person who finds the ring is elected as Lord of Misrule and will be in charge of organising the day's games.

CAPTION(S):

World party; JANUARY 1; Europe,Japan, Australia,North and South America, Russia; FEBRUARY 13 Chinese MARCH 5; Moscow's Red Square may look spectacular on New Year's Eve, but revellers must mind their heads as empty vodka bottles are thrown high into the air at midnight; Islamic New Year Al-Hijra MARCH 20 Persian SEPTEMBER 11 Ethiopian SEPTEMBER 27 Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah OCTOBER 26 Hindu New Year NOVEMBER 1 Pagan
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Words:1432
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