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JAN. 1 DOESN’T ALWAYS MARK THE NEW YEAR

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By tomorrow, the party will be over.

Hangovers will be mending, resolutions will be breaking, and the new year will be under way.But Jan. 1 wasn't always New Year's Day. In fact, it didn't kick off the new year until 1582 when the Gregorian or "new style" calendar proclaimed it so.

Furthermore, note the writers of the "American Book of Days," there's no logical reason that particular day should herald the new year, since Jan. 1 has no special place in the sun's cycle.

In fact, the ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians and Persians celebrated their new year on the autumn equinox (around Sept. 21).

The ancient Greeks made the winter solstice (around Dec. 21) their new year.

Even today, not everyone celebrates New Year's Day as we do - or when we do. Some cultures kick off the year on Jan. 1 and then repeat the celebration at a later date, according to local custom.

Several Asian cultures hail the Lunar New Year, which usually falls somewhere between the end of January and the first part of February, with rowdy exuberance.

In India, you can get in on a New Year's party on four different dates other than Jan. 1, if you happen to be in the right part of the country at the right time.

Jews worldwide will mark their new year in 1990 on Sept. 20 and 21 with religious observances.

And if you happen to be in Myanmar (formerly Burma) on April 13, expect to get all wet, as citizens throw water to wash out the old and welcome the new year with "Thingyan," the Water Festival.

For those of us who could use a new start more often than every 365 days, or are just looking for a reason to celebrate, here's a run-down of some other New Year's Days commemorated by other cultures.

- The Lunar New Year celebrated by many Asian cultures falls on Jan. 27, 1990, and marks the beginning of the Year of the Horse, or 4688 on the lunar calendar.

In Korea, families will quietly observe the new year on Jan. 27 and 28. To mark the occasion, many Koreans don their hanboks, the flowing, traditional costume of the country.

The customary New Year's food is song-pyon - rice cakes filled with red bean paste and steamed with pine needles. Some, though not all, shops close for the holiday. But off-season prices attract tourists to Korea during the snowy winter season.

In Hong Kong on New Year's Eve (Jan. 26), families sit down to a huge meal that runs the courses from soup to duck. Since nine is a lucky number in the Chinese culture, "you try to go for nine courses even though you know nobody's going to finish it," said Alicia Chow of the Hong Kong Tourist Association.

The festivities go public on Feb. 10, when the New Year's parade marches through the streets of Hong Kong.

Closer to home, the members of San Francisco's Chinese community pass the day quietly with family members or close friends wishing each other "Gung hay fat choy" - "May you prosper." Children receive money tucked in red envelopes; others exchange the traditional gift of fruit.

New Year's Day is just a low-key harbinger of the revelry to come, however. The 1990 Chinese New Year festivities in North America's largest Asian community officially kick off at noon Feb. 3 in Union Square. A Chinatown street carnival runs from Jan. 25 to Feb. 11 in Portsmouth Square, and festival tours of Chinatown and other special events also are planned.

The festivities end with a bang beginning at 6 p.m. Feb. 10 as the traditional Chinese New Year parade streams through the streets of Chinatown. It'll be dominated, as usual, by the 160-foot Gum Lung or golden dragon.

For details on San Francisco's Chinese Year of the Horse festival schedule, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope after Jan. 10 to the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 6977, San Francisco, Calif. 94101.

Other Canadian cities with Lunar New Year celebrations include Toronto, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia.

In Vancouver, which boasts the West's second largest Asian population, the Chinese Cultural Center opens its traditional yearly flower market in the center on Jan. 26. The festivities culminate with a parade and dragon dance at noon on Jan. 28. For specifics, call the Chinese Cultural Center at (604) 687-0729.

About 135,000 Vietnamese live in the San Francisco Bay area. Their New Year's Day, called Tet, coincides with the Chinese New Year, though some of the customs differ slightly. The Bay Area Vietnamese community will celebrate Tet with a Friendship Festival startin at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 26.

The festival continues from 10 a.m. to midnight Jan. 27 and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Jan. 28 at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose. The traditional event features Southeast Asian foods, arts and crafts, sports events and cultural exhibits. The event is open to the public.

- In Myanmar (formerly Burma), the new year falls on April 13, 1990, with the Water Festival, or "Thingyan," which amounts to a raucous water fight that lasts several days.

The revelry is greater in rural areas and small towns than in big cities like Yangon (formerly Rangoon), said an embassy spokesman.

To travel to Myanmar, you must be part of a tour group - no individual visas are issued.

- Besides celebrating the Jan. 1 New Year, Thailand also marks the Lunar New Year, which, as in neighboring Myanmar, falls on April 13, 1990.

Called "Songkran," the festival lasts from April 12-15 in Thailand, and involves religious as well as public festivities.

- The Hindu Solar New Year lands on April 15, 1990. Called Baisakhi, the holiday is generally celebrated in the northern part of India, particularly in Punjab and Bengal. But there are four other renewal celebrations when people of particular areas wear new clothes, prepare special foods and generally get festive.

In Telegu, there's a New Year's celebration on March 27, 1990. April 14 is the Tamil New Year. Vishu, the festival celebrated in Kerala in southern India,