Cultural diversity is important to the health and wellbeing of your employees.
Something as simple as celebrating a new year can be viewed very differently by your workforce depending on their background, culture, heritage, religion or ethnicity.
Most countries recognize the first day of a new year as a public holiday. A new year represents the start of a new period of time and it can also give people a time to pause for reflection, and to look forward to a new time in their lives.
However, while the Western version of New Year’s Day celebrates the new year according to the Gregorian calendar, many different cultures and religions recognize other times of the year as a time to celebrate their future hopes and good fortune.
Recognize a world that is rich with diversity and check out our 2021 Diversity Holiday Calendar. It reflects the observances celebrated by various cultures and populations.
These celebrations and traditions play an important part of society and influence different cultures. They bring people together and create a sense of belonging and identity. Their celebrations, festivals, special occasions and traditions help reflect their history, values and worldview.
As a way to help you enhance your workplace diversity and inclusion efforts, I will be discussing ten different new year celebrations that take place around the world and help you understand their importance to each culture they celebrate.
January 1: New Year’s Day
Celebrated on the first day of the year, according to the modern Gregorian calendar, many Western countries celebrate New Year’s Day as a new beginning. There tends to be a common theme of celebrating what happened in the previous year and recognizing all the good as well as bad that took place. It is also a time to bring the previous year to a close, with hope and anticipation of what the next year may bring.
January 28: Mahāyāna New Year
A holiday celebrated by Mahāyāna Buddhists primarily in Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia. Celebrations vary depending on the country and local tradition.
Mahāyāna Buddhists celebrate by honoring and praying to their gods, particularly Buddha. They sing religious songs and offer them up to the deities. Buddhists are expected to visit a nearby temple and light candles to bring happiness and good luck for the coming year.
The new year is a time for meditation and self-reflection. They want to find ways to improve and learn from their past mistakes. Buddhists believe that buying new items, cleaning, redecorating the home and giving gifts can bring good luck in the coming year. Families and friends celebrate with feasts that are filled with sweets, and there are typically fireworks at midnight.
February 12: Lunar New Year
This is one of the most sacred of all traditional Chinese holidays, a time of family reunion and celebration. The Lunar New Year, also called Spring Festival, is also celebrated in Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Mongolia.
Before the new lunar year, houses are thoroughly cleaned to remove any bad luck that might be lingering inside. Traditionally, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are reserved for family celebrations and religious ceremonies.
On New Year’s Day, family members receive red envelopes (lai see) containing small amounts of money. There are dances and fireworks throughout the holidays. The last day of the New Year’s celebrations ends with the Lantern Festival, when colorful lanterns light up the houses, and traditional foods such as yuanxiao (sticky rice balls that symbolize family unity), fagao (prosperity cake), and yusheng (raw fish and vegetable salad) are served.
February 12-14: Losar, the Tibetan Buddhist New Year
Losar is a three-day festival filled with prayers, ceremonies, hanging prayer flags, partying sacred and folk dancing. It is the most widely celebrated of all Tibetan festivals and represents a time for purification and renewal.
Tibetan households draw the eight auspicious symbols and other signs on walls with white powder. They raise prayer flags from hills, mountains, and rooftops and burn juniper leaves and incense as offerings. It is traditional to offer sprouted barley seeds and buckets of tsampa (roasted barley flour with butter) and other grains on home altars to ensure a good harvest.
On the last day of the celebration, monasteries are elaborately decorated. In homes, cakes, candies, breads, fruits, and beer are offered on family altars.
March 19-20: Naw-Rúz, the Bahá’í New Year
Naw-Rúz which means “new day” in Persian, is one of the nine Bahá’í holy days on which work is suspended.
In preparation, people spring-clean; ridding their homes of unnecessary clutter and dirt so they can start fresh in the new year. Also, lentils are placed in a dish to sprout into a mass of green blades.
Naw Rúz is celebrated with many symbols indicating spring and renewal:
- sprouted lentils represent rebirth and renewal (Sabzeh),
- dried fruit, ideally from a lotus tree, represent love (Senjed),
- apples represent beauty and health (Sib),
- garlic is for medicine and self-care (Seer),
- a sweet pudding represents wealth and fertility (Samanu)
- vinegar symbolizes the patience and wisdom that comes with aging (Serkeh)
- sumac represents the sunrise of a new day
- other symbols include a mirror for reflection, colored eggs for fertility, and coins for prosperity.
Many Bahá'ís celebrate Naw Rúz with gift-giving. People enjoy each other’s company and welcome the exciting, unlimited possibilities of a new year. However, the holiday is not just for celebration. It also serves as a time for prayer and self-reflection.
March 21-22: Nowruz/Norooz, Persian New Year
Each spring equinox brings joy, celebration and renewal to more than 300 million people worldwide– from the Balkans to the Black Sea Basin to Central Asia to the Middle East and elsewhere.
It’s not a religious holiday but rather a universal celebration of new beginnings: wishing prosperity and welcoming the future while shedding away the past. Meaning “new day”, Nowruz/Norooz falls on the first day of spring. Families use this time to deep clean their homes and closets and buy fresh clothing.
It’s a monthlong celebration, filled with parties, craft-making, street performances, public rituals and lots of food.
There are many symbolic items. They include wheat grass, herbs, mirrors, candles, decorated eggs, water and various fruits, all representing different hopes for the new year, including health, wealth and prosperity. Many families also place a goldfish on the table for good luck and poetry books or the Quran to symbolize education and enlightenment.
Families visit friends and neighbors and share meals and host parties. Communities come together to celebrate the beginning of spring and do so in hopes they will always be surrounded by healthy and clean surroundings, like their home.
April 12: Hindi New Year
Hindi New Year is the day which marks the beginning of the golden age celebrated on Chaitra Shukla Pratipada. India is a land enriched with different cultures thus there are various calendars in use depending upon regional and cultural backgrounds. Each state in India celebrates the New Year in its own unique way, following customs and traditions that are exclusive to that region.
Most New Year celebrations are based upon the harvest because marks the end of one agricultural harvest and the beginning of a new one.
It is an important day and is celebrated by offering prayers to Gods and Goddesses. People light oil lamps in front of their houses and plant barley in a mud pot. They exchange sweets and gifts with family and friends as well.
August 10: Hijri New Year
Hijri New Year marks the beginning of the new Islamic calendar year.
While many Muslims make resolutions and spend time with family to mark the new year, there is a major difference to how the holiday is commemorated by the two major sects of Islam, Shiites and Sunnis.
Devout Shiites spend the first 10 days of the Islamic New Year fasting and mourning the slaying of Prophet Mohammed's first cousin Ali and his only grandson Hussein Ibn Ali, and that leads up the holiday Ashoura.
For Sunnis, the new year is a time to spend with family, visit the mosque to pray and focus on gratitude.
In many countries with a large Muslim population, the day is a public holiday when businesses close and government offices shut down.
September 6-8 (sundown to sundown): Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year celebration
Rosh Hashanah is a fall holiday that is both a time of rejoicing and of serious introspection, a time to celebrate the completion of another year while also taking stock of one’s life.
The two days of Rosh Hashanah usher in the Ten Days of Repentance (Aseret Yemei Teshuvah), also known as the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim), which culminate in the major fast day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
One week before Rosh Hashanah, special petitionary prayers called Selichot are added to the ritual.
The challah (traditional bread) that is eaten for the Rosh Hashanah season is round, symbolizing the eternal cycle of life. The challah is traditionally dipped in honey, symbolizing the hopes for a sweet New Year.
September 11: Ethiopian New Year
Ethiopia rings in its New Year, Enkutatash, meaning “gift of jewels” on September 11. The country’s unique calendar considers September, to be the first month of the year.
Ethiopian girls perform a song called ‘Abebayehosh’. They carry bright-yellow flowers which grow in Ethiopia only from September to November.
As a token of appreciation for their performance, people present the girls with a piece of bread prepared for the holidays, or with money. In return, the girls wish gift givers fruitfulness in the coming year.
Young boys weave beautiful paintings and hand out their works of art to family members, neighbors and friends.
The whole family comes together to light a bonfire in their backyard and dance around it in circles on the eve of the New Year.
The national dish doro wot (chicken stew), which takes at least half a day to prepare, is usually on the holiday menu, and is served along with local alcoholic drinks such as tej (honey wine) and tela. Everyone dines together, and it is common to see people feeding each other as a way of showing affection and love.
Celebrating the many diverse cultural celebrations of your staff and clients is a significant way to foster inclusion and belonging in any organization, community and society. Celebrations and festivals can be great opportunities for everyone to grow interest, knowledge and understanding of one another culture’s traditions, practices and beliefs.