Post-mortem of New Year Celebration

Dr. Irengbam Mohendra Singh *

 Khonggumelei - Golden-coloured Manipuri Urei (orchid)
Queen Elizabeth II (not singing and not crossing arms), Prime Minister Tony Blair & others singing Auld Lang Syne in New Year Eve at the Millennium 20 years ago in London

New Year is a holiday. We all enjoy holidays. As the name (holy day) implies, the English word holiday was intended to allow individuals to attend to religious functions on special days. In modernity, they are special days to relax from attending schools and works on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on Bank holidays. They are also intended to commemorate certain events that are religiously or culturally significant.

In 19th century Britain, Sunday was a Holy Day and nobody was expected to work. Sunday was the day of Resurrection of Christ. In British India, after along deliberation, Sunday was declared a holiday on June 10 1890, for recuperation and to attend to personal and social problems.

We owe it Meghaji Lokhande, a Maharashtrian in Bombay, the leader of the mill workers, who demanded six days a week working days with Sundays as holidays. He stressed the point that Sunday is the day of the Hindu deity 'Khandoba'. The British officials took seven years before his demand was granted. In due course, government offices and schools were closed for Saturdays and Sundays to energise employees and students.

The Government of independent India followed the same British custom, and legally introduced 5-days-a week, Monday to Friday working day, in the civil administration offices, beginning from June 3 1985 (cf. order no. 13/4/85-JCA dated May 21, 1985 of Department of Personnel and Training) with all Saturdays and Sundays closed.

Sundays became a holiday worldwide because of European empires and their influences. Even in countries (there are 10) that escaped European dominion, such as Nepal, Bhutan and Thailand, Saturdays and Sundays wer holidays. In some Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, working days are from Sunday to Thursday. Friday is a Holy Day when the Muslims go to the mosque.

In every country, there are several days each year that are recognized by the Union government and all state government as holidays. Besides, each state has its own holidays, which may or may not be recognised by other states, such as Meitei Cheiraoba or New Year. There are only three national holidays in India: Republic Day on January 26; Independence Day on August 15; and Gandhi Jayanti on October 2, every year.

New Year holiday is such an event that is recognised all over the world. New Year holiday was first instituted by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE (see below). But, old civilisations around the world have been celebrating the beginning of each New Year, for at least four million years. It began in Babylonia/Mesopotamia about 2,000 BCE.

Modern Meiteis have at last, caught on with New Year celebration in Imphal city, having been influenced by Western civilisations. This mega celebration has dwarfed the importance of Meitei New Year celebration of Meitei Cheiraoba on the 'first day of Sajibu' (Meitei calendar) or Sajibu Nongma Panba, in April of Civil calendar. Meitei Cheiraoba celebration has the same significance to this global Western style annual New Year celebration. It is to seek good fortune and ward off bad luck in the coming New Year. A wishful thinking of course, but exhilarating. Many people live on hope.

Meiteis, who are ingenuous by trait, and pick up things quickly, have joined this worldwide festivity. It is easy to catch on, as it involves drinking a lot of alcohol and merry-making. Meiteis love festivities. More and more Lai Harouba festivities with innumerable number of professional dancing female maibis are coming out every year for entertainment. Resurrection of a long dead deity of Ima Imoinu has recently been taking a bold leap into the conservation of the spirit if Meitei gaiety.

The celebration of Western-inspired New Year is actually on the New Year's Eve, while waiting for the clock to bong 12 at midnight when the transition of old year to New Year takes place. The greatest New Year celebration in the world is in the coastal city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. In India, Mumbai takes the lead. Westernised Mumbaikars have been celebrating it, long before any other city in India began to celebrate it.

The global explosion of colour, heralding the dawn of this New Year 2020, was celebrated in London in style with massive fireworks display along the Thames River. There are so many things to enjoy in London in the New Year's Eve, but at a huge cost. Night clubs are crowded, restaurants are packed with intense clubbing New Year Eve dinner parties. Pubs and bars are overflowing with people letting go of all thoughts of misery. Thousands of revellers, men and women, holding beer bottles and cans, gather around the Piccadilly Circus and dance in the fountains of Trafalgar Square.

The small island nations of Tonga, Samoa, and Kiribati in the Central Pacific Ocean of the continent of Oceania, are the first to celebrate New Year, based on the established time zones.

While I was a little boy in the UP school at the end of WWII, we never heard of New Year celebration or Christmas celebration. We heard of Boro Din, but never knew about Christmas or Jesus Christ. My father used to receive a box of cakes for Boro Din, every year from some Sahib. Only when I went to Johnstone school where there were a few Khongjai students form Churachandpur, we knew about Christianity. There were no Tangkhul boys. They were sent to Missionary schools in Jorhat, Shillong and other towns in Assam by Christian Missions that were firmly established in Ukhrul. Thanks to the good old Pettigrew.

In the UK, many working class young Britons would save money all the year, to wallow in excesses of liquor for this night only. It is a night of licentious and wanton drinking with a big hangover the next day, needing the 'hair of the dog'. Luckily the next day is New Year's holiday. Things like New Year resolutions that had been customary in Roman times are usually trifling maters of jest. Most people give up their resolution in just over a week.

New Year celebration has nothing to do with Christianity, but the practice began in the West from Rome where Christianity began. The festival of New Year began in ancient Babylon/Mesopotamia 4.000 years ago. It reached Greece and finally arrived in Rome. The Romans called it "Saturnalia" in honour of Saturn. It was celebrated about the middle of December.

In pre-Christian Rome, New Year was celebrated on January 1, the first day of the Julian calendar. In 46 BCE, Julius Caesar adopted the Julian calendar and ruled that New Year began on the January 1. He instituted the New Year festival on the first of January with all the licentious drinking and other frivolities, along with personal improvements and resolutions for the year ahead. The day was dedicated to Janus, the Roman god of gateways and beginnings, for whom January is also named.

In the Middle Ages, many other 'heathen rites", such as the customary Teutonic yule log burning and hanging of sprigs of Mistletoe from the ceiling of a house, dripped into the Christian world. Mistletoe is supposed to possess mystical powers to bring good luck and to fend off evil spirits. It is a parasitic plant like orchid that grows on trees. It used to be decorations in the churches at Christmas times.

The tradition of ancient 'Yule log' burning, originally Nordic, to bring good luck, ultimately became traditionalised into Christianity from Germanic paganism. It later on, became a symbol of Christmas as the birth of Jesus. Yule is a type of tree like oak or birch. Pagan was a word used by Christian Greek and Romans for non-Christians like Germans at that time.

The festivity continued when the Roman Emperor Constantine imposed Christianity on the Roman world in about 375 CE, in the way King Charairongba of Manipur enforced Hinduism to Meiteis. It was a good a thing.

There is a curious but enjoyable custom of kissing any woman who happens to be under the mistletoe, hung up from the ceiling of a house. This is an English custom since 1843. The original custom was that a berry was picked from the sprig of Mistletoe before the person could be kissed and when all the berries had gone, there could be no more kissing!

When I first came to England, in 1966, I could kiss any nurse on the ward on Christmas Day, where twigs of mistletoes were hung up. Not anymore. It will now be charged as sexual harassment. No child can sit on the lap of a Father Christmas in town centre shops as he could be deemed to be involved in paedophilic activities.

In the Christian West, when the Teutonic (German) pagan customs were added, the date of New Year's celebration was temporarily changed to March 25, to coincide with the Germanic spring rites of fertility. It was changed to January 1 again, when Pope Gregory in the Vatican, reintroduced the ancient Roman date of January first, in October 1582, and when his Georgian calendar 'reforms' were accepted. It was finally acquiesced to Rome in the 1700's. The Georgian calendar was designed to make the calendar stop wandering through with respect to seasons.

The Gregorian calendar is today's internationally accepted Civil calendar and is also known as the Western or Christian calendar. The calendar spaces leap years to make the average year 365.2425 days long, approximating the 365.2422-day tropical year, which is determined by the Earth's revolution around the Sun. It is a solar calendar system that originally evolved out of a lunar calendar system.

New Year carries a special symbol to bring good luck. It is celebrated in the West and the East alike. There is a customary song, sung to celebrate the start of the New Year or Hogmanay in Scotland, at the stroke of midnight, in all the English speaking countries like India (eg Mumbai). This is called "Auld Lang Syne". It is a poem that was composed in 1788 by the famous Scottish bard Robert Burns. He was a good drinker.

Auld Lang Syne, literally means "Old Long Since" or Days Gone By. He means in the poem, "Let's us drink to days gone by". It quickly became appropriate toast for Scottish Hogmanay or New Year and later on, in England and the British Empire. It is an integral part of New Year celebration in America, which started in New York in 1929, by Scottish immigrants.

It is a common practice that everyone stands and joins hands with the persons next to him or her, to form a great circle around the floor. At the beginning of the last verse, everyone crosses their arms across so that the right hand reaches out to the neighbour on the left and vice versa. At the end of the song the circle is broken and every one shakes hand with each other wishing a Happy New year. In Britain and America, kissing their special someone at midnight after the singing session is common to start the New Year with good luck.

* Dr. Irengbam Mohendra Singh wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at irengbammsingh(AT)gmail(DOT)com and Website:
This article was webcasted on January 07 2020.

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