I remember April as being one of the months that I looked forward to the most when I was small. For good reason- by the time we got to April 14, which normally happened to be Tamil New Year’s day, schools and colleges would close for the summer and would reopen only in June. So the celebratory meal for New Year’s also tended to be a mini celebration for the end of school year. I hear that this is no longer the case for students studying under the national curriculum where school goes on until May. I certainly am glad I am no longer in school but I am sad that I no longer have two months off every year.
Of course it was not just Tamil New Year’s day in April. It was also Ugadi (Telugu/ Kannada), Vishu (Malayalam), Gudi Padwa (Marathi) so on and so forth. A huge chunk of India from the north to the south celebrates their traditional New Year’s day in April.
I was very surprised when I heard a few years ago that they celebrate Songkran (Thai New Year’s) also around the same time. Knowing the close links between parts of India and Southeast Asia in history, I shouldn’t really have been surprised but sometimes one never looks past one’s own culture and practices.
I then did a bit of research and was astounded to find out that it was not just in Thailand but also in Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Burma that they celebrated the New Year’s day around 13/14/ 15th of April. I find this to be quite amazing! Most of these New Year celebrations are centred around the transition of the Sun from the constellation of Piscies to that of Aries in the zodiac. I never had made that connection until now. This also marked the end of the harvest season.
I tried to push my luck a little further geographically and see if Vietnam (the next logical choice going eastwards) also celebrated New Year’s around the same time but I found out that their New Year’s is synced to the Chinese calendar and falls on the same day as Chinese New Year and is based on the lunar calendar. Other countries in Southeast and East Asia celebrate Chinese New year either traditionally or because of the vast Chinese origin population in their countries.
So we have the New Year according to the Gregorian Calendar (1 January), then we have the Lunar New year celebrated by China and other countries (around February) and then you have all the other countries in South and Southeast Asia celebrating their New Year in April.
What this makes me think about is the fact that at a certain point of time in our past, we all lived similarly even though we spoke different languages and we celebrated festivals in the way they linked nature to our lives.
Of course if you haven’t yet planned out your New Year resolutions, now may be a good time to start!