The New Year Doesn't Always Start on Jan. 1

A celebration of the Chinese New Year

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New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are among the most anticipated holidays on the Gregorian calendar. Most of the world marks the transition from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 with celebrations, but in some cultures, the year doesn't begin on Jan. 1. Even in places where fireworks and champagne toasts mark Dec. 31, another traditional new year holiday holds greater importance, like the Chinese New Year.

If you were to travel to different parts of the world throughout the year, you could experience dozens of unique celebrations related to a new year. In some cultures, such festivals coincide with the changing of seasons. In others, the year ends after harvest or during a religious celebration.

Here are 10 different festivals from around the world that mark a new year.

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Chinese New Year (January or February)

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Chinese New Year is celebrated throughout the Sinosphere, while Tet, the Vietnamese version of the Lunar New Year, is usually (but not always) held on the same date. Because it's based on the lunar calendar, the festival's dates vary from year to year, but it always falls between mid-January and mid-to-late-February.

In China, this is the year's biggest holiday. Schools and businesses are closed for at least a week, and tens of millions of people travel to visit their families. Familiar sights include the dragon or lion dances, during which life-sized puppets with long tails are controlled by a number of dancers. Fireworks also play a part in the festivities, though most of the celebrations, which can last for up to two weeks, focus on eating and paying visits to relatives, friends and neighbors.

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Balinese New Year (March)

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New year celebrations are decidedly quieter in Bali, though New Year's Eve can be quite raucous. New Year's Day, held in March, is called Nyepi. Nyepi is the quietest day of the year on the busy tourist island in Indonesia. In fact, it's known as the "Day of Silence" because all local Hindus engage in introspection, meditation and fasting. Businesses are closed to accommodate these practices, and even the airport shuts down for the day.

The day before Nyepi, Hindu communities in Bali and throughout Indonesia hold parades and perform other rituals. Some of these festivities involve carrying giant effigies called ogoh-ogoh (pictured). These are demon-like creatures that are meant to represent the evil that has built up during the year. The ogoh-ogoh are burned at the end of the night.

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Persian New Year (March)

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Nowruz, the Persian New Year, takes place each March on the Vernal Equinox. Its roots go back thousands of years to the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, the world's first recorded monotheistic religion, which thrived in what is now Iran. Celebrated in Iran and by members of the Iranian diaspora, Nowruz is also a national holiday in some countries as well as provinces in the Caucasus and in Central Asia.

To mark the special day, Persians set up decorative tables called haft-seen (pictured) with special dishes, colorful tablecloths and candles. There are parades and cultural events associated with this holiday, but like many other new year celebrations, the main festivities during Nowruz revolve around paying visits to family and close friends. These short visits are usually reciprocated, creating a kind of rolling party.

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Thai New Year (April)

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Songkran, the Thai New Year, begins on April 13 each year. Traditionally, this is a time of merit-making, when devout Thais go to Buddhist temples with offerings and food for the resident monks. Another important tradition involves cleaning Buddha statues by pouring water over them.

This cleansing practice has evolved into a water festival of sorts. Streets around the country are closed off and people splash each other with water. During the three days of Songkran, the water throwing goes well beyond these designated areas. Visitors to Thailand during mid-April are virtually guaranteed to get wet at some point. A similar holiday is celebrated as the new year in Cambodia (Choul Chnam Thmey), though with less of a focus on water fights.

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Assyrian New Year (April)

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Assyrian New Year has its roots in ancient Assyria and Babylonia, which were once two of the world's most powerful civilizations. Celebrated on April 1 in Northern Iraq, Iran and Syria, and by members of the Assyrian diaspora (mainly in the U.S.), the holiday involves parades and cultural events.

Parades take place in the U.S. in places with large Assyrian populations. One of the biggest of these celebrations is held in Chicago (pictured). Each of the city's Assyrian churches, clubs and cultural organizations contribute a float or march together to represent their group.

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Maori New Year (June)

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Matariki is a traditional Maori celebration. The holiday marks the rise of a cluster of seven stars (known as the Pleiades Cluster to Western astrologists) that are important in Maori astrology. The stars become visible in late May and reach their height in June, when the holiday is officially marked with cultural performances and celebrations. One special practice involves gather to fly colorful kites (pictured).

The festival coincides with winter in the Southern Hemisphere, the end of harvest season in New Zealand. The holiday was nearly forgotten for decades, but it was revived by a group of Maori as a cultural celebration in the early 2000s. It has grown every year since then, and events are now attended by Kiwis of all ethnicities.

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Ethiopian New Year (September)

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Enkutatash is the Ethiopian New Year. It is celebrated on Sept. 11 or 12 each year. The date comes from the Coptic calendar, which is based on the Julian calendar that was used by the Roman Empire. September is also the end of the rainy season in Ethiopia.

In rural areas, people spend Enkutatash at church before having a special meal and exchanging flowers with friends and neighbors. Though it's based on Coptic traditions, secular Ethiopians often wish each other "Happy New Year!" during Enkutatash. Some people also exchange cards to mark the holiday.

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Gujarati New Year (October or November)

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The different cultural and linguistic groups in India celebrate the new year at different times (in addition to celebrating on Dec. 31). Most new year holidays are in April, but in Gujarat in Western India, the new year begins right after the Hindu festival of Diwali.

Bestu Varas is celebrated in late October or early November. Fireworks ring in the new year in the early morning (at 4 a.m.). Locals decorate the front of their homes with flowers, leaves and mandalas, which are also known as rangoli (pictured).

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Samhain (October or November)

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Samhain was a festival celebrated by Celtic peoples at the end of the harvest season. Some of the practices of this ancient holiday were adopted as part of Western Halloween. Celts honored spirits of ancestors during that day, with skull and bone decorations and fires (this eventually evolved into costumes and jack-o-lanterns).

There has been a movement in modern times to reinvent Samhain as a kind of neo-pagan new year. Samhain was one of four end-of-season Celtic celebrations, but famed anthropologist James George Frazer popularized the idea that the holiday was a kind of new year for ancient Celts. Despite his theory, he admitted that the evidence was inconclusive. Many Neo-Pagan groups have adopted the holiday as their new year nonetheless. They celebrate in different ways, with bonfires, dancing, the placing of shrines and other rituals inspired by practices dating back to ancient times.

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Hogmanay (December)

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Hogmanay is the celebration of the new year in Scotland. Like the rest of Europe and the Western World, Scotland uses the Gregorian calendar, so Hogmanay takes place at the end of December and the beginning of January. However, festivities here don't involve balloon drops or champagne toasts.

Hogmanay celebrations include bonfires, torchlight marches and swinging fireballs. In major cities and towns, there are parades, concerts and performances. The "first foot" — the first step into a newly cleaned home after midnight on New Year's Eve — is an important part of the new year in more traditional parts of Scotland.