By Maung Hlaing
On the night of 31 December, 2019, when the clock struck twelve, people all over the world bid farewell to the old year. They sang the old favourite song “Auld Lang Syne” in chorus.
Today, the old year is gone and we have ushered in the New Year AD 2020. Almost all the nations across the world may be celebrating the NewYear’s Day–the first day of the calendar year. Although Myanmar people have their own traditional New Year’s Day, youngsters happily participate in the celebrations of the World New Year’s Day. The celebrations are both festive and serious in most countries in the world.
The ways of celebrating the New Year Festivals or the New Year’s Day are different. As far back in history as we can tell, people have celebrated the start of a new year. May I recount some traditional celebrations from my jottings I have made.
According to a fable, believe it or not, the ancient Babylonians celebrated the New Year’s Day by forcing their king to give up his crown and royal clothing. They made him get down on his knees and admit all the mistakes he had made during the past year. This idea of admitting wrongs and finishing the business of the year is found in many societies. So is the idea of making resolutions, a promise to change our ways.
In accordance with their traditional customs and ways of living, the designation of new year is also different. The people of ancient Egypt began their new year in summer. That is when the Nile River flooded its banks, bringing water and fertility to the land. They held religious ceremonies because their ceonomic life depended on the annual flooding.
The people of ancient Babylonia and Persia began their new year on 21 March, the first day of spiring.
Some American Indians began their new year when the nuts of the oak tree became ripe. That was usually in summer. The ancient Mesopotamians held their new year at the time of the spring rains.
Many ancient peoples started the new year at harvest time. They performed rituals to do away with the past and purify themselves for the New Year.
Myanmar people do have a Happy New Year. However, our new year is ushered right in the midst of a scorching summer with citizens enjoying the fun. The noisy revellers who have yelled their lungs are out in three or four days of fun. Noise making is another ancient custom in the new year celebrations. The noise is considered necessary to chase away the evil spirits of the old year. People in some countries do different things to make a lot of noise. They may hit sticks together, beat on drums, blow horns or explode fireworks. (In Myanmar, we had such practices when we were in our childhood days. On the first day of the new year, after the monks had chanted, or recited protective verse from Buddhist scriptures, people did the practice of expelling evil spirits from the neighbourhood. It was called “Taw-htoke Pwe” in which people beat on buckets, hit sticks and blow horns to make noises.)
Now, almost everyone in the world celebrates New Year’s Day on 1 January. People celebrate by holding family parties, giving presents and visiting friends. In homes of some countries, the New Year’s Day is celebrated with ceremonial house-cleaning, feasting and exchanging visits and gifts.
Modern customs on New Year’s Day, indeed, include visiting friends and relatives; giving gifts; attending religious services; and making noises with guns, horns, bells and other devices. People write New Year’s message on decorated papers. Mostly, large numbers of people go to New Year’s Eve parties. At midnight, bells chime. Seriens sound. Fireworks are let off. Everyone shouts “Happy New Year!” And the New Year’s Day has come round once again.
People in some countries celebrate this day even as a holiday. Formerly, this day was not a holiday for us in Myanmar. In the time of the popular government, however, we get two consecutive days–31 December of the year and 1 January of the new one. Today, as before, people all over the world will observe the New Year’s Day in many different ways.
As we have stepped into another new year, the year 2020, we have left behind the old year 2019 with pride and satisfaction. Just as we ring out the old year and ring in the new year, we usually take stock of what has been achieved individually, in groups, or governaments and nations. Generally, there have been advances in all spheres of human endeavours in all countries regardless of region and size.
If we cast a glance at a panoramic view of the world in 2019, the old year saw economic downturn, financial shock waves, tax hikes, spending cuts, soaring prices, food insecurity, fuel insecurity, the spread of epidemics, the scourge of terrorism, problems of illegal immigrants, natural disasters, regional wars and so on in some countries including have-nots. Due to the trade wars being launched between the super powers, small nations were in the throes of economic instability. The fact no one can deny is that the entire world has come under the threats of climate change that has caused a growing number of natural disasters.
Climate change is already hurting the global economy and will cost hundreds of billions of dollars annually by century’s end unless drastic action is taken to cut carbon emission. According to AFP reports, the year 2019 is set to be the second hottest year in history. In 2019, Greta Thumberg, a Swedish teenager, became a global star nominated for a Nobel Prize. Because of her efforts, millions of young people took part in weekly demonstrations demanding climate action.
As for Myanmar, although the year 2019 saw tangible results of the reforms of the democratic government, there occurred some incidents and natural disasters. The most unfortunate tragedy occurred in August in Paung Township, Mon Sate where about 70 people were killed and nearly 30 injured in a landslide.
The year 2019, indeed, was an eventful year in the history of Myanmar. Gambia, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has filed a case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The case is nothing but a challenge for us. It is also an issue of national interest affecting all the nationals residing the length and breadth of Myanmr. The oral proceedings on the Gambia’s report for the indication of provisional measures took place at the ICJ on 10,11, and 12 December respectively. However, the State Counsellor, in her capacity as the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs contested the case to defend the national interest of Myanmar.
Blood is thicker than the water. So goes the saying. It is heartening to see that people from all walks of life, those in the Union as well as those living abroad, are expressing stronger supports for the State Counsellor and her leadership in the endeavour to contest the case at the ICJ. Ordinary laymen, service personnel from government departments, Hluttaw representatives, school teachers, representatives from civil organizations and philanthropic organizations participated in the rallies to support the State Counsellor.
What we vividly see is the unity in diversity. It is the strength of unity that lies within and without can surely refute the allegations. Regarding the ease, we hope for the best but, must prepare for the worst, standing together with the State Counsellor. Although the old year left an inheritance of some evils, we could see some considerable successes in efforts to develop Myanamr in the political, economic and social fields. As we have gained successes, we have also had shortcomings in some of our efforts in the past year. True to human nature, we want to look ahead with hope to consolidate the successes and continue to build our country into a peaceful and prosperous society.
Whatever it may be, in 2020, we are going to see one-hundred-kyat notes with the portrait of Bogyoke Aung San, the architect of independence of Myanmar. Such currency notes have disappeared from the sight of the people for ages. Downtown Yangon, sooner or later, will get our National Library in the new year. We will see another historic general elections that will take place in the eventful year of 2020. The country is going to the polls in the new year to select a popular government.
Good things as well as bad things will accompany us into the new year. We have no choice to accept tham. It depends on the luck of the draw. However, we need to transform the bad into good, and the good into better. Doubtlessly, the old year is the legacy of the new year. We have to take lessons from the past year and endeavour to make greater progress in the future. Today, service personnel including white-collar and blue-collar workers still enjoy their holiday. From today onwards, we must resume the tasks we have committed to.
Build up your strength for the new year!
Happy New Year!!