Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Different cultures view New Year's Day differently, and so customs differ throughout the world concerning the first day of the New Year.

Some cultures consider New Year's a time to ward off evil and encourage good fortune for the coming year. So fireworks, for them, chase away the bad and 12 (some say 13) round fruits on the dinner table on New Year's means 12 months of good fortune, all year round; the 13th for some people means even extra fortune.

Others, like Americans, regard New Year's as a time to begin anew. So, they make New Year's resolutions.

Chamorros, in the past, didn't seem that preoccupied about the coming year's fortunes, good or bad. Perhaps this is due to the average Chamorro's consistent pattern of having the basic necessities of life. There were few luxuries for most, but almost all had a roof over their head, land to till and the sea to fish in.

The attitudes Chamorros had about New Year's in the days before Americanization can be broken down into three main categories. Remember that not every Chamorro family had the same regard for New Year's and not everyone practiced these customs.


For some, New Years was the time to bury the hatchet. Or machete. To forget about past wrongs, end a family fight, or grievance with a neighbor or whomever. Two people who may not have spoken to each other due to a quarrel might start to speak to each other once again on New Year's or thereabouts.


Some families observed the custom of really giving the house a clean sweep. This was done a day or two before January 1, not on New Year's Day itself. Everything in the house, and sometimes around the house, was given a good cleaning. Perhaps some old and useless things were disposed of. The New Year was started, this way, with everything clean and in order.


Another custom, for some, was to wear nothing but new clothes and new shoes on New Year's. Again, it was the idea of starting the new year using nothing but new things. But, as one lady said, this was not a widespread custom before the war, because, before the war, "Puro ha' mamopble." "We were all poor."


The Germans have many interesting New Year's customs. In some parts of that country, a spoon full of melted lead is dropped in cold water and the resulting shape is supposed to give a clue as to the coming year.

The German Capuchins were in charge of the Catholic mission in Saipan and Tinian from 1907 to 1919. They used some German melodies to compose new hymns in Chamorro. These songs were not sung on Guam; only in Saipan and then Rota.

One of these songs, "Ta fan magof todos," is sung for the new year. It includes the lines :

Jesus Yu'us-måme / gi nuebo na såkkan
gai'ase' nu hame / apåtta i daño.
Nå'e nu i deskånso / i man gaige esta gi naftan
yan guåha sea kåso måtai na såkkan.

"Jesus, our God / in the new year
have mercy on us / remove what is harmful.
Give rest / to those already in the grave
and on those who may die this year."

In time, this idea of thinking of the dead developed into remembering the dead of the past year. In recent years (the last 20 or 30), this developed further into the practice of lighting candles in Mass, and presenting them to the altar or sanctuary, one candle for each deceased in the past year, at the New Year's Mass. This custom (and the song) also traveled south to Guam where it became the practice in some parishes.


In many families in the old days, New Year's was not celebrated with any special attention.

The reason is this. For the Church, up to this day, January 1 is not the celebration of a change in the calendar. It is a spiritual, or religious, commemoration.

For centuries, January 1 was, for Catholics, the feast of the Circumcision of the Lord, since Old Testament Law ordered that Jewish baby boys be circumcised on the 8th day after birth. Since the Lord's birth was observed on December 25, His circumcision would be observed on January 1. The feast of the Lord's Circumcision meant several things. First, it showed how Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus obeyed the Old Testament Law. Second, on the 8th day, baby boys received their names. Our Lord's name, Jesus, means "God saves" and is indicative of His mission and identity. Third, when the Child Jesus was circumcised, He shed His first blood for our salvation. The fact that this feast fell on the first day of new civil year was secondary.

In 1960, Pope John XXIII changed the title of the Church feast of January 1 from the Circumcision of the Lord to "Octave of the Nativity," "octave" meaning "eighth day." The prayers of the Mass of that day still referred to the circumcision of the Lord. In 1969, the general reform of the Church Calendar shifted the observance to Mary, the Mother of God, though the current Gospel for that day does make reference to the circumcision of Jesus.

So Chamorro Catholics from the time of Sanvitores up to the changes in the Church calendar observed January 1 as a religious feast of the Circumcision, and thereafter the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. The change of a new secular, or civil, year was not seen as a religiously significant thing.

Now, of course, New Year's in the Marianas is often accompanied by fire crackers, gun shots and resolutions, under influences from abroad. But, under several centuries of Spanish influence, many Chamorros did not give January 1 any special attention and not many customs developed except for the ones described above.

1 comment:

  1. Bonito y kostumbren antigu. Pop woud warned: ' Adahe i tase' sa chaochao ya bula rumelenu." "Adahe i chalan sa mangagagao desgrasion. Fa ngetu ge gima."