Here's a look at all the intersting things I've learned and experienced since I moved from Germany to Sri Lanka (and wrote 'Saved in Sri Lanka')!
Why is the Sinhalese New Year celebrated in mid-April?
Before the New Year
The day before the New Year (13th of April)
Unlike the New Year celebrated all over the world according to the Gregorian calendar (with the old year ending on December 31st at midnight and the New Year dawning in the very next minute on January 1st), there is always a gap of a few hours between the end of the old year and the dawning of the new year. This time is called punya kalaya or nonagathe – neutral time – and is reserved for resting and fasting. For a certain amount of time, nobody will eat or drink anything (with the exception of infants, toddlers and sick people). Absolutely no form of work is allowed, be it housework or anything else. In the past – and still today in some villages and families – this time was used to socialize with the family and play traditional games, to listen to sermons and engage in religious activities or tell stories. Nowadays, everyone simply lazes around or is gathered around the television, as all stations will show live or pre-recorded programs pertaining to the New Year history and customs.
Depending on the auspicious times each year, this time period might begin on the 13th and end on the 14th or cover several hours on the 14th itself.
Avurudu (the New Year on the 14th)
Several minutes or hours after the dawning of the New Year, there is a specific time when to light the hearth for the first time. Some choose the gas stove on which they cook, others prepare a fireplace out of stones and kindling. A clay pot is filled with milk and brought to boil over as an auspicious sign and symbol of prosperity. This is followed by enough time to prepare milk rice and condiments for the first meal of the New Year, with the first bite being taken at the preordained time. Often, the head of the household will feed the rest of the family a bite first. In many households, it is customary to go to the temple on the first day of the New Year.
After the New Year
- For each important ceremony (welcoming the new year, lighting the hearth, breaking the fast, bathing, going to work), there is a designated auspicious colour to wear. It depends on the day on which the ceremony falls and could for example be white, gold, red, blue or green.
- Every time one of these rituals is performed, there is an auspicious direction to face (like north, east, etc.).
- For centuries now, Sri Lankans choose an avurudu kumariya, a New Year Princess. She has to look beautiful in traditional garments as well as know the customs and stand for respected values. This is done in schools and villages as well as at some workplaces and nationwide on the major television channels. An avurudu kumaraya is the New Year Prince, chosen in the same manner.
- In the days prior to and following the New Year, there are many games played on special grounds or in villages and at home. Some of them are: pillow fights on a horizontal beam, climbing a greased pole, eating dangling buns without using your hands, hitting filled hanging clay pots with your eyes closed, and sack hopping. Marathons, competitions and races are held before the festivities, with various (sponsored) prizes to win.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me.