Festivals honouring the arrival of a new year go back 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. The Babylonian New Year was the first new moon following the vernal equinox — the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness.

Subsequent civilizations around the world developed calendar years that started on an auspicious agricultural or astronomical event. This tradition changed when the Roman emperor Julius Caesar assigned 1 January as the first day of the year in the Julian calendar. Pope Gregory XIII re-established 1 January as New Year’s Day in 1582 after centuries of Christian policies changing the date to days of greater significance to the religion such as 25 December, the day Christians celebrate as Christmas or the birth of Christ.

Australia’s New Year celebrations are particularly world-renowned for the magnificent Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks. They are one of the most engaging social celebrations that commemorate the year that had gone and celebrate the coming of the next. Aside from popular special events such as masquerade balls and parties, Australians celebrate through conducting parades that honour historic moments that happened during the year. In fact, the Australian New Year celebrations revelled in the LGBTQIA’s triumph of legalising same-sex marriage in Australia. Everyone in Sydney witnessed the creation of a rainbow waterfall on the Harbour Bridge for New Year’s Eve.

Most of the common New Year’s resolutions by people worldwide are health-related such as doing more exercise, weight loss, shift to healthy living, less alcohol and quitting smoking. Other resolutions are: learning new skill or hobby, more time on personal wellbeing, more time with family and friends and saving or investing money.

New Year’s resolutions, though easy to write down, are difficult to implement. Time and again, we are confronted with so many challenges in meeting our goals such as unpredictable happenings and situations that can be daunting. Changes in health and money matters, including work situation like job loss or worse, death of a family, friend or even a business associate are some of the unexpected things coming our way.

2017 was a year of tumultuous upheavals in society and historic positive events. Threaded with historic society developments (i.e., #MeToo movement, Australia’s vote in marriage equality) are the bloody wars and violent attacks that rocked the world. The peace, which the angels proclaimed to the shepherds on Christmas night, is a profound aspiration for everyone especially for those who most keenly suffer its absence. The most affected in the search for peace in a war-torn world are refugees. In the backdrop of the controversial

Manus Island issue, Pope Francis and other religious and world leaders advocate compassion that embraces all those fleeing from war and hunger or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands. It is this hospitality and harmony that the Filipino community and other nationalities enjoy in Australia that also enables the hope for a peaceful progressive new year in the midst of diversity.

It is with heartfelt hope for Australia to flourish as a diverse society that the state and all its citizens will welcome refugees and migrants and allow them to participate, as part of a process of mutual enrichment and fruitful cooperation in service of the integral human development.

— Published in The Philippine Times, January 2018 edition

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