Happy New Year to everyone! Ngithemba ukuthi ningene kahle kunyaka omusha (I hope you entered the new year well).

There is some linguistic and anthropological interest in this day, when looked at from the perspective of isiZulu – mainly because of its special place as a borrowed custom.

The isiZulu word for New Year is uNcibijane, which sounds authentic – even down to a fairly standard diminutive ending -ane or -ana, as seen in words like inkosazane and inkosana. However, it isn’t even remotely Zulu. It’s Dutch (or early Afrikaans, to be more precise), and is an approximation of Nuwe Jaar (with the w pronounced somewhat like a v and with a hard j, as opposed to the modern y pronunciation of Afrikaans).

Thus it can be deduced that the celebration of New Year was more important among the Afrikaans-speaking communities that were in contact with the amaZulu than it was among the English-speaking ones – in contrast with the isiZulu word for Christmas, uKhisimusi, which chose the English exemplar rather than the Afrikaans Kersfees.

The fact that there is not an isiZulu word for New Year is incredibly obvious when you consider that the festival marks nothing of any significance to a Southern Hemisphere culture – it marks neither a lunar nor solar event in the southern hemisphere, but is rather a fossilized remnant of northern hemisphere festivals to celebrate the darkest part of the year, and the rebirth of the sun from the depths of winter.

To a traditional Zulu, the year does not begin in January. It begins with the dead moon in July or August, just after the southern hemisphere’s Winter Solstice.

And yet the linguistic adaptation (and cultural adoption) of uNcibijane shows an interesting shift away from the traditional lunar timekeeping to the fossilized solar obsessions of the northern hemisphere.