NEW YEAR’S DAY
From earliest times of history people have had the concept of marking time by dividing it into years. Each year, of course, has a beginning, which is called New Year’s Day (in Armenian: Nor Dari, or Amanor, or Gaghant, which is cognate with the word “calendar”). But that first day of the New Year has been marked at different times in the annual cycle of seasons, for various peoples. Even today, that difference exists, and people have their own times for the start of the New Year.
For many centuries the Armenian people celebrated the New Year on the first day of the month of Navasart, which correspond to the present August 11. The word Navasart itself denotes new year. For a time there was a practice of celebrating the start of the New Year at the beginning of spring, following the idea of nature’s awakening and flowering of plant life. For Armenians, the acceptance of January 1 as the start of the New Year occurred in the 18th century, under the Pontificate (1763-1780) of Catholicos Simeon Yerevantsi.
The New Year – Amanor or Gaghant – has generally been a feast of joy and happiness for the Armenian people. It was customary to exchange gifts with family members and close friends, to bring delight to children with gifts of clothes and toys in exchange for their promises of good behavior. It was also customary to set the family table to the extent of their means with fruits and good things to eat, thereby making the abundance and joy spread throughout the year.
It is known from the pages of ancient Armenian history that kings and princes organized popular athletic games and festivals acclaiming creativeness in song, dance, music and minstrelsy. These games and festivals were known as the Navasartian Days.
Although the New Year was not a religious feast, it offered, in a sense, the alluring idea that the New Year was a renewal just as the spiritual re newal found in the Christian Holy Nativity. It was with such thoughts that religious celebrations took place in the church with Divine Liturgy and appropriate sermons. Religious and lay leaders of the community congratulated the people on the occasion with appropriate messages.
THE WORLDWIDE CHARACTER OF THE NEW YEAR
The New Year is international in character, for, notwithstanding when a people celebrate it, they indeed do so. For the entire Christian world, January 1 and the prior evening have a captivating meaning. It has been so, and continues to be so, especially for children. In old-world custom, children joyfully await its arrival so that they can enjoy its pleasures that permeate everywhere, with gifts, good wishes, greeting cards, leaving all with happy memories. The New Year has been the occasion also when writers and poets reflect on the moral meaning of the New Year, and they write articles, stories, and tales about it. There is a vast body of literature that exists in this genre.
We sincerely urge the reader to explore such material, for example, “Tales of the New Year” told to Keghart (Dr. H. Kazanjian, of Beirut), and also “The Dream Book” by Tlgadentsi, and others.
Courtesy of “Feasts of the Armenian Church and National Traditions” by Garo Bedrosian, 1993