In a not-new-year’s-eve-party our protagonists talk about what they did 5 years ago: Amaar was a top-lawyer who got set up with 15 girls by his parents; Baber just moved to Mercy, made Fred angry at Muslims, and had dinner with his ex-wife; and non-hijjab-wearing Rayyan got invited to a party by her old high-school bully.
Rayyan: Amaar, what are you doing tonight, you want to come to a New Year’s Eve party?
Amaar: New Year’s Eve is not really a big Islamic holiday.
Rayyan: Ok, not a New Year’s Eve party then, just a dinner party that happens to take place on New Year’s Eve.
Yassir: Interesting distinction.
Rayyan: Oh come on, there is nothing in Islam that forbids socializing on the last day of December!
Amaar: Actually, in Islamic calendar, there is no last day of December.
Rayyan: There you go, it will be like it never happened.
For the last episode I wrote about Jews and celebrating Christmas. In this post I mainly want to talk about New Year’s, but a lot of the following can also be applied to Christmas of any other Christian holiday.
So what does Judaism actually say about New Year’s? Nothing. Celebrating the new year on January 1st is not something universal, it is just the start of the new year in the Gregorian calendar, the calendar used since Roman times by Christianity. Like Islam and many others, Judaism has its own calendar. To quote Amaar, "there is no last day of December", because Jewish calender has different names for the months and the months also start at different dates, the first of a month in Jewish calendar does not usually coincide with the start of a month in the Gregorian calendar. So no, December 31st is not a special date in Judaism. [If you are interested in the details of the Jewish calendar, read the calendar page at JewFAQ, or Wikipedia]
Does the Jewish year have a celebration for the new year? Yes, of course, it’s called Rosh haShana in Hebrew and the Jewish date is Tishri 1st, which usually falls somewhere during the months of September or October of the Gregorian calendar. The character is much different from the celebrations that usually take place on December 31st/January 1st though.
So, can a Jew host a dinner that just happens to take place at New Year’s? Well, you can in principal host a dinner any day you like. Even if it happens to be a national holiday. With a clearly purely secular holiday, e.g., independence day, there is also no issue if you make it into a celebration of that holiday. But when the holiday is clearly from a different religion, e.g., Christmas, many Jews are uncomfortable with having a family reunion on that day because this would give the impression of celebrating a holiday of a different faith. Between these two clear cases are other holidays where opinions differ on whether this is a secular or a religious holiday. One case that has generated many discussions is Thanksgiving, another is New Year’s. While the celebration of December 31st/January 1st doesn’t have a religious origin and many people today view it as the purely secular celebration of the year change, it also is a holiday in the Christian religious calendar. So opinions are mixed and accordingly some Jews will not celebrate it and others will. Just like Muslims, apparently.