Ten, nine eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one….Happy New Year! The countdown, the strike of the clock, the revelry of the crowd and the clinking of the glasses are heard all over the world on 31st December. The New Year’s night is one of hope – hope that the New Year will bring good fortune and good health. This hope is universal; a few customs however, some of them quirky, differ from country to country. Scotland New Year’s is Hogmanay in Scotland. It is a four to five day blast, including parties, street festivals, entertainment and fire festivals originating from the Vikings. A few traditions include cleaning one’s house as in Indian Diwali or Jewish Passover. Sweeping the fireplace is a must during this time. First Footing is an ancient tradition where after the stroke of midnight, neighbors visit each other, bearing traditional symbolic gifts such as shortbread or black bun, a kind of fruit cake. A toast is then made by the host with Scottish whiskey. If you have a lot of friends, you will be offered a great deal of whisky! The first person to enter a house in the New Year, the first foot, could bring luck for the New Year. The luckiest was a tall, dark and handsome man. The unluckiest is a red head and the unluckiest of all a red-headed woman. Another ritual practiced is setting barrels of tar on fire and gradually rolled down the streets in the villages of Scotland. This ritual symbolizes that the old year is burned up and New Year is going to begin.
Mexico Those with hopes of traveling in the New Year carry a suitcase around the house at midnight and those who want to travel to far-off places carry it around the block. Mexicans search for luck in various innovative ways. If luck in love is the goal for the New Year then red underwear should be worn. Yellow underwear should be worn when you are searching for luck in money.
Spain In Spain people gather in the town center bringing with them bunches of grapes. They proceed to eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight, one each time the clock chimes. This ritual originated in the twentieth century when there was an unseasonable bumper harvest of grapes. Not able to decide what to do about so many grapes at Christmas time, the King of Spain and the grape growers came up with the idea of the New Year ritual. A few seconds before midnight people make a wish for the New Year and after eating the grapes the crowds disperse to dance, sing and make merry.
America Nearly forty-five percent of American adults make one or more New Year’s resolutions each year. All sorts of resolutions are made. Weight loss, better financial planning, and to quit smoking are the most common. The first Ball was lowered at Times Square on December 31, 1907 and is now a symbol of the turn of the New Year. It seen via satellite by more than one billion people each year.
Italy On New Year’s Eve friends gather together and enjoy a special meal in Italy. Each region is known for its special food for example in the Northern hilly regions, pork, polenta, lentils and crostini are especially made. Each person must wear something old, something new and something torn or broken. A special cake known as monte bianco, made with liqueur and cream is meant to keep the warmth inside during the winter months it is enjoyed that night.
Columbia The New Year traditions in Columbia is unique. People put jewelry in a champagne glass before toasting at midnight. A plate of rice mixed with lentils at midnight. The first custom is done for wealth while the second custom is done for getting good crops for the year ahead.
Another major ritual among New Year traditions in Columbia is to prepare New Year’s Bread. It is baked with a coin placed inside. The bread is cut at midnight and the person who receives the coin is supposed to enjoy good fortune for the entire year.
Poland The New Year’s Day and its eve, known in Poland as St. Silvester’s Day, begins a period of balls and parties known as the carnival. For centuries sleigh rides known as kulig was a traditional form of having fun and is still popular. A parade of horse-pulled sleighs and sledges went from one house to another, entertained everywhere with hearty meals followed and then by dances. Today the rides are less less of a thrill but ends in a fun meal and a bonfire. The last Thursday of the carnival the Poles fill their stomaches with with pączki (doughnuts) and deep-fried narrow strips of pastry known as chrust or faworki. Shrove Tuesday ends the carnival . It is known as śledzik or the “herring feast”, after the herrings eaten on that day.
Puerto Rico and Paraguay Families stuff a life-size male doll with straw and old cloth and dress it in old clothes from each family member, symbolizing the ‘old year.’ At the stroke of midnight the doll is set on fire. The doll is stuffed with bad memories or sadness associated with them are burned away this will help one to forget the unpleasant happenings of the past year and usher in happiness with the coming year.
Greece In Greece New Year’s Day is known as the Festival of Saint Basil. Children leave their shoes by the fireside on with the hope that Saint Basil, who was famous for his kindness, will come and fill their shoes with gifts.
Published in Jetwings December 2009