As the new year dawns, many gather with family and friends to enjoy funny glasses, pointy hats, loud and obnoxious party favors, and perhaps a glass of a bubbly as they welcome in a fresh set of 365 days. Simultaneously, football teams in big bowl games get fired up. A million people or so usually gather in Times Square to watch the Waterford Crystal Ball drop. (Well, maybe not this year. Thank you, Omicron.) Little kids get out mom’s pots and pans to bang on at the stroke of midnight. And champagne purveyors sell most of their yearly quota in the few days prior to December 31st.
Traditions heralding a brand new year are many and varied, to say the least. Extensive research has shown that making a lot of noise (in addition to the aforementioned pots and pans) is a particular favorite activity of cultures around the world. Fireworks are popular, a tradition started with the Chinese to ward off the forces of darkness. (Which obviously didn’t work for Covid-19, unfortunately.) As far back as early American colonists, it was accepted practice to fire pistol shots as clocks struck twelve. In Thailand, the citizenry once upon a time fired guns to frighten demons.
The Danes have an interesting way to help their fellow citizens while ushering in the new year. They apparently throw plates and glasses against neighbors’ front doors to banish any bad spirits. (No word on how much liquid refreshment has been consumed before this activity takes place.) In Ecuador, it’s traditional to burn effigies of famous people to destroy previous bad vibes and start anew. (Good thing we don’t do that here in the U.S. Can you imagine how busy the fire departments in every city and town would be, given our current political climate?) Unfortunately, a new Russian tradition might be to invade a neighboring country. (Let’s hope that one doesn’t catch on.)
On a lighter note, food, as usual, seems to be front and center at many celebrations. In the sunny south, black-eyed peas and collard greens are often paired with ham or pork and cornbread for luck and prosperity. A midwestern tradition sometimes includes sauerkraut. (Fortunately, my midwestern Grandma always had copious amounts of chocolate chip cookies on hand, so sauerkraut would have come in a distant second.)
Lentils are popular in Chile (although you’d think it would be jalapenos, et al, wouldn’t you?) In Spain, twelve white grapes are a must. And it seems in several cultures that doughnuts and pretzels are big, or really any ring-shaped cakes and pastries (representing coming full circle). Those are must-haves in the Netherlands, Mexico, Greece, and other places. Denizens of Sweden and Norway enjoy rice pudding with an almond hidden inside. If you find it, you’re in for twelve months of good fortune. And Canadians tend (or pretend) to “enjoy” a polar bear plunge.
People in many places toss tinsel here, there, and everywhere – all while singing Auld Lang Syne. That Scottish tune is kind of expected at some point in the evening, at least in English-speaking countries. In Scotland itself, New Year’s Eve parties can go on for a few days. Apparently, as part of the celebration, it’s considered good luck to have a tall, dark-haired man come knocking at the door right at midnight. He’s supposed to bring gifts. One research site reported that coal, shortbread, salt, and whiskey are common. I’m told the latter is the most popular.
One resource reports that Germany has a “lead-pouring” custom. That apparently involves “putting a bit of lead in a spoon, melting it over a candle, and dropping it into water. The resulting hardened shape tells you what’s in store for the new year.” The Irish? Believe this or not, it’s said some citizens bang bread against the walls to beat away bad luck. And for real fun? There’s a L atin American custom to coordinate your underwear with a color that represents a hope for the upcoming year. (Hint: Red for love.)
For the Chinese New Year, people in the Far East clean their houses (gets rid of bad luck) and maybe even repay some debts. One Italian tradition sounds like fun (as long as you’ve got good aim and don’t live on a busy street). Some there apparently throw furniture out of their windows. Soft stuff mainly, thank goodness. And if you’re in the Philippines, you’d fit right in by surrounding yourself with things that are round such as coins and fruit. All the chosen items represent success and wealth.
Regardless of how you decide to welcome in 2022, be it with great fanfare or quiet serenity, I just hope you keep alive the upbeat feeling of a new beginning throughout the months ahead.
©MMXXI. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer