And So We Ring in the New Year

As one of the most ancient holidays, the start of the New Year is a time for people to come together with family and friends, reflect on the past year and look forward to the future. While most cultures ring in the New Year on January 1, many people in South and Central Asia celebrate this special occasion at other times during the year.

In Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of South Asia, the New Year is known as Nowruz, which means “New Day” in Persian. Nowruz celebrations, once banned under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, start on the first day of spring and continue for two weeks.

The Afghan president gives an official speech to outline the events of the past year and his plans for the year ahead. Among the most popular Nowruz traditions among Afghans is to forgive and forget mistakes and to start the New Year with new hopes and goals. A common custom involves burning piles of wood to symbolize destruction of any remaining evil from the previous year. Afghan women celebrate Nowruz by cooking samanak, a sweet paste made of wheat germ, in a large pot overnight. While it cooks, the women sing songs and dance. No men are allowed to participate in samanak parties. In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized March 21 as International Day of Nowruz.

The New Year is celebrated a little differently in India, often based on region and religion. In parts of the northwest, the New Year occurs during Diwali, which means festival of lights. One of the most important festivals of the year for Hindus, Diwali takes place between mid-October and mid-November. Families decorate their homes with small oil lamps called diyas. According to Hindu legend, Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama following his victory over the demon Ravana. To celebrate the return of their king, people illuminated the kingdom with clay diyas and firecrackers. Today, the lighting of diyas signifies the triumph of good over evil. Colorful paper lanterns called kandeels and designs made from colored powder known as rangoli are also popular Diwali decorations.

Even though the New Year is celebrated at various times around the world, the lively atmosphere, emphasis on traditions and optimism that come with it are universal. Barakat looks forward to the series of success 2011 will bring us, and we hope to share it with you every step of the way!