Renewal is celebrated by many cultures at many times of the year
Jan. 1 is the No. 1 holiday on our calendar, which was originally introduced by Julius Caesar and modified by Pope Gregory XIII 1,500 years later. Among other things, Julius stuck two extra months in the old Roman calendar - one subsequently named for him and the other for his heir, Augustus - to make it more in accord with the solar year.
Before Julius' intervention, the Roman year started in March, when spring crops were planted. The Julian calendar made Jan. 1 the new beginning.
During the Middle Ages, Europeans began calculating dates from the presumed time of the birth of Christ. This is the most common system in the world today.
But it's not the only one.
Jan. 26 is the start of the Chinese lunar year, also celebrated by Koreans, Vietnamese and other cultures. Chinese New Year usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Every year it is associated with one of the 12 signs in the Chinese zodiac, each representing a different animal. 2009 is the Year of the Ox, which symbolizes prosperity through fortitude and hard work.
According to the Chinese calendar, this year will be 4707, figured from the time of Emperor Huang-Di, who reigned around 2400 B.C.
Every year, Jasmine Restaurant in Kearny Mesa has a big Chinese New Year celebration featuring dragon and lion dances, music and, of course, Chinese food. For more information, call Jasmine at (858) 268-0888.
On March 20, the spring equinox, Iranians celebrate Noruz, an ancient Persian holiday with origins dating back at least 3000 years. It's a celebration of life and renewal, and many Iranians like to go out to a park to spend the day in nature. At home, they set the table with seven symbolic objects, including sprouts, seeds, eggs - and a live goldfish.
La Jolla's Sadaf Restaurant will offer a traditional Noruz dinner, and the House of Iran will present special programs in Balboa Park and at the Mingei Museum in Escondido. For more information, call Sadaf at (858) 551-0643 or the Mingei Museum at (619) 239-0003.
Sept. 19 is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It's the first day of the month of Tishrei, and the start of the year 5769 in the Jewish calendar, said to be figured from the time of Creation.
Rosh Hashanah begins the Ten Days of Awe, during which people ask forgiveness for their sins so they can be written in the Book of Life for the coming year. At a ceremony called Tashlich, sins are symbolically cast off by throwing pieces of bread in the ocean.
"If you have a lot of sins, you can bring a whole loaf!" said Lucy Muller, who works at Temple Beth El on Gilman Drive.
Bring your own bread and join local congregations at La Jolla Shores.
For more information, call Beth El at (858) 452-1734 or Beth Israel at (858) 535-1111.
Oct. 17 is the start of Diwali, a nine-day Hindu festival of lights commemorating the victory of the god Rama over the demon Ravana - a triumph of light over darkness.
The happening place is around the Shri Mandir Temple in the small Mira Mesa mall known as Little India. Last October, 4,000 people gathered to celebrate Diwali with food, dance performances and offerings to Hindu deities, especially Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity.
Asha Agrawal has been the main organizer of the event for the past 15 years.
"We schedule our celebration a week or two before or after the actual holiday," she said. "So it doesn't conflict with other events and everyone is able to celebrate Diwali at home with their families."
Save the date: Oct. 24. For more information, call (858) 566-5644.
Every month, this column will feature some hotspot, near or far - a cool place to eat, meet and expand your horizons.