New Tear's Day, the first day of the year. Ancient and modern civilized peoples, while differing as to the day from which they reckoned the beginning of the civil year (see Year), have agreed in distinguishing it by special festivities. The Romans dedicated the day and the whole ensuing month to Janus, offered sacrifices to him on 12 altars, and were careful so to order their conduct on that day that every word and action should be a happy augury of the 12 months of the year. They exchanged kindly greetings and wishes, and sent to their kinsfolk, friends, and acquaintance presents called strenoe. These new year's presents became under the Caesars such a source of personal profit to the sovereign, and so onerous to his subjects, that Claudius limited them by a decree. The first Christian emperors kept up the custom, though still accompanied by many idolatrous rites. The church condemned it, prohibited Christians from joining in the social celebration, and ended by making it a religious festival in memory of the circumcision of Christ.
The bestowal of gifts upon new year's day was not peculiar to the Romans. The druids distributed branches of the sacred mistletoe, cut with peculiar ceremonies, as new year's gifts among the people; and the Saxons of the north, according to Bishop Stillingfleet, observed the festival with feastings and sending gifts. Henry. of England is said to have extorted new year's gifts, and Queen Elizabeth's wardrobe and jewelry were probably almost wholly supplied from these contributions. Dr. Drake says that, although the queen made returns to the new year's gifts in plate and other articles, she took care that the balance should be in her own favor. As late as 1692, as appears from the "Monthly Miscellany" for December of that year, the English nobility were accustomed, "every new year's tide," to "send to the king a purse with gold in it." In England the ringing in the new year from the belfries of churches is now the only open demonstration of joy at the recurrence of the anniversary. In the city of New York the day is made the occasion of social visits by gentlemen, a custom dating back to the settlement of the town by the Dutch; and the practice has become prevalent in many parts of the United States. - The Jews celebrate their new year's festival (Rosh hashshiinn.lt) at the beginning of the month of Tishri (September-October), the first of the civil year corresponding to the seventh of the Mosaic or ecclesiastical.
The distinguishing feature of the celebration in the synagogues is the blowing of horns, in accordance with Leviticus xxiii. 24. Among the Chinese the new year's celebration, continued for three days, is the greatest festival of the year. Preparatory to it, all accounts are settled and debts paid so far as possible; and tradesmen who cannot pay their debts are generally obliged to give up all their property to their creditors. On new year's day calls are made upon friends, joyous greetings are exchanged in the streets, paper prayers are offered in the temples, fireworks are burned, gongs are beaten, and a general hubbub prevails. At night gambling is practised to an enormous extent.