Goodbye, year of the water snake, and hello, year of the wooden horse. The Chinese New Year, or Nónglì Xinnián, is coming up on Jan. 31, the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar.
The Chinese months are determined by both solar and lunar changes, with the new year coming approximately a month and a half after the winter solstice and symbolizing the beginning of spring, explains Peter Newbury, a former professor of astronomy at UBC. As such, the fifteen days of celebration that go from January 31 to are also known as the spring festival.
The Chinese animal signs are a significant part of the new year, with this year ushering in the horse, an animal signifying unexpected adventure and surprising romance, according to astrologer Susan Levitt. These characteristics are the most pertinent to those born in the year of the horse: 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014.
An additional astrological factor that isn't as universally recognized is the element put together with each year: either metal, wood, water, fire or earth. These distinguish the year even further, with 2014 known as the year of the wooden horse, or the green wooden horse, as wood is associated with greenery and nature. (You can find out your specific animal and element using this tool at ChineseAstrology.uk.)
Celebrations for the Lunar New Year include parades, wearing red (it's considered a lucky colour) and enjoying time off work. Modern times, however, seem to have changed the traditional holiday within China, with many disappointed to discover the government had not granted an official holiday on Lunar New Year's Eve, Jan. 30, in the western calendar. According to the Guardian, this is usually a time for families to gather together and have dinner, but due to the modernization of the economy, it was changed.
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Orthodox New Year
Many of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, such as those in Russia and Serbia, still observe their holidays and festivals based on the Julian calendar. Therefore, the New Year gets celebrated twice by many people in these countries: The "New New Year" on Jan. 1 and the "Old New Year" on the first day of the Julian calendar, which falls on either Jan. 13 or 14. Since most public festivities and celebrations are centered around the Gregorian new year, the "Old New Year" is generally observed more quietly by family meals, prayer and special church services.
Nowruz, Persian for "New Light" or "New Day," coincides with the spring equinox, which usually falls on March 20, 21 or 22. Widely known as the Persian New Year, Nowruz is widely observed in Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and other Central Asian nations. The holiday is believed to have started with Zoroaster himself and is the most important holiday in the Zoroastrian tradition. Additionally, Nowruz is an important holy day for people in the Baha'i Faith and is widely observed by Shiite Muslims. An official state holiday in most countries of the region, Nowruz is usually marked by several days of activities including special foods, gift giving, parties and family gatherings. Last January, Huffpost blogger Melody Moezzi <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melody-moezzi/irans-new-year_b_408295.html" target="_hplink">wrote about Nowruz</a> in relation to the democratic movement in Iran.
The landscape of holidays in South Asia is crowded, to say the least. Immeasurable diversity in religious beliefs and practices means that there is no uniform New Year's observance for the millions of Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and other inhabitants of the region. There are many traditions that celebrate the New Year in mid-April with festivals to mark the beginning of Spring. This coincides with the first days of the Nepali and Bengali calendars, among others. Pictured here, Sikh pilgrims perform rituals at the Gurdawara Punja Sahib in Hassan Abdal, one of the most sacred sites for the followers of Sikh religion. The festival of Baisakhi, which is celebrated on April 14, marks the Punjabi and Nepali New Year and the beginning of the harvest season in the region.
Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year is the most important holiday for the nation of more than a billion people. The season around the New Year festival, which marks the beginning of the Chinese lunar calendar and falls in late January or February of the Gregorian calendar, features the largest annual human migration in the world as people travel home to spend time with their families. Specific customs and traditions vary widely within China but gift-giving, fireworks, elaborate feasts, dances and the construction of decorative shrines are common rituals. Pictured here: Chinese Taoist worshippers light joss sticks as they pray beside the Dafo temple in southwest China's Chongqing municipality on the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year on Feb. 14. In 2009, HuffPost World gathered photos of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/26/chinese-new-year-marked-w_n_160794.html" target="_hplink">Chinese New Year celebrations</a>.
Losar is the most important holiday for the people of Tibet and marks the beginning of their lunar calendar. Although it often coincides with the Chinese New Year, the two celebrations are not culturally linked. The Losar festival usually lasts for two weeks with public celebrations, special foods, prayer and family gatherings. Many of these activities center around the Buddhist monasteries with meditation and ceremonies aimed at blessing the coming year. Last year, HuffPost blogger Heidiminx <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/heidiminx/losar-celebrations-ceased_b_461397.html" target="_hplink">wrote about</a> some of the rituals surrounding Losar as well as it's place in Tibet's political struggle.
While this is commonly referred to as the Jewish New Year and is literally translated to mean “head of the year,” Rosh Hashanah actually marks the beginning of the 7th Hebrew month, Tishrei. In the Torah, the beginning of the year is mentioned in the context of the first Passover holiday, which falls in the month of Nisan. But by the time the Jewish oral tradition -- the Talmud -- was written down, Rosh Hashanah had been established as the Jewish New Year and was referred to in the Mishnah for the first time as the "Day of Judgement." Among other things, it is considered the New Year for people, animals and legal contracts, and is used for calculating the sabbatical and jubilee years. Today, Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Days of Awe, or High Holy Days, on the Jewish calendar. It is a time of reflection for some Jews and an opportunity for spiritual awakening for others. Others enjoy the New Year as a time of reunion and reconciliation with family and friends. HuffPost Religion blogger Rabbi Brad Hirschfield <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-brad-hirschfield/rosh-hashanah-2010-libera_b_702705.html" target="_hplink">wrote about Rosh Hashanah</a> this year as a time of renewal and liberation, and he provided seven "easy" steps to personal and spiritual revitalization.
Al-Hijra (Muslim New Year)
Al-Hijra, the Islamic New Year, is the first day of the first month of the Islamic calendar, Muharram. It marks the Hijra in 622 C.E. when the Prophet Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina in order to establish the first Muslim community. HuffPost blogger Omid Safi recently provided an explanation for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/omid-safi/the-hijra-movement-of-god_b_792490.html" target="_hplink">the significance of the Hijra</a>.
With the majority of people and governments around the world following the Gregorian calendar, Jan. 1 is the day that most people celebrate the start of the New Year. While it is mostly associated with revelry and fireworks, many spiritual people take the New Year as an opportunity for meditation and resolutions to focus themselves for the coming year. HuffPost Travel has compiled a list of its <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/27/best-new-years-celebrations_n_800944.html#s214779" target="_hplink">favorite New Year's celebrations</a> around the world.