Tribe Theories of Yesteryear
A famous historian and philosopher who published extensively in the history of religions, Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) thought that for primitive people, New Year’s was an attempt to begin history anew, taking it out of the chaos of primordial time before time. He believed that for people throughout history, the New Year was the occasion for purifications or expulsion of sins and demons.
Here are some typical rituals at the end of the year for various tribes.
For some Native North Americans (such as the Yokuts and Yuki tribes), a year is the same as the words for “earth" or “world" and the world has passed when a year is passed. The buildings where they gathered for important rituals were constructed in a circle to look like the cosmos, where they could meet and be reborn.
In India, an altar with a 360-brick enclosure corresponded to nights of the year. This type of fire altar means the year is built, fired and regenerated by being created anew.
In Jerusalem, 12 loaves of bread on the table signified the 12 months of the year. They also had a candelabrum with 70 branches, meaning that the zodiac division of seven planets was broken into tens. This signified that the temple was at the Center of the World and of cosmic time.
In ancient Babylon, at Akitu, a Poem of Creation was performed on the last days of the year and the first days of the New Year. The poem was a combat between the god Marduk (a double-headed sun god) and the marine monster Tiamat (a sea monster). Marduk took the monster’s dismembered body and created man from the blood of a demon named Kingu, thereby putting an end to the chaos and symbolizing a new beginning.
The Romans would celebrate by making offerings to the god Janus in order to gain good fortune. They also worked a little on New Year’s Eve day because being a sloth or lazy was akin to being idle and a bad omen.
Chinese New Year was originally celebrated at the beginning of the spring planting season, but it took on mythical proportions in a creature called Nian, meaning “year." Bamboo fires, decorated homes and loud noises control him.
The Persian New Year—the roots of Nowruz—became a celebration of spring at the vernal equinox. People host lavish banquets during this 13-day festival. A haftseen table in their home is decorated with a lucky seven items, each item beginning with the letter sin, (s), and symbolizes spring and renewal. They also exchange presents, sprinkle water—many have a vessel with goldfish in it—and dye eggs. This ritual evolved so now the people choose a Nowruzian Ruler, a commoner who playacts a king before being dethroned at the end of the festival.