In the US people traditionally make resolutions about the coming year, they have big parties and drink too much and they watch the ball drop in Times Square, New York City. This is one way to spend New Years Eve that most of us know about; there are also many traditions that we might not know about that take place on the same night around the world. This list will present ten of these traditions from the perspective of a truly international flavour to bringing in the New Year.
In Scotland New Year’s Eve is called Hogomanay or Night of the Candle. Foods such as three cornered biscuits called Hogmanays are eaten. Other foods that are special at this time of year are wine, cordials, cheese, bread, shortbread, oatcake, currant loaf and scones. After sunset people are known to collect juniper and water to purify the home. One of the traditions is “first-footing.” Shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve, neighbours pay visits to each other and impart New Year’s wishes. All the people of the household wait to see who the first person to enter the house after midnight will be, as this person would indicate whether they would have good luck or bad luck for the coming year. The first person must be a dark haired male, young virile, good natured and prosperous. He should not be empty handed and was supposed to bring with him a small gift such as a piece of coal, bread, salt as they were symbols of life. It is not really uncommon for the first person in the door to be “coincidentally arranged”…Today, the Edinburgh Hogmanay celebration is the largest in the country, and basically consists of an all-night street party.
When the clock strikes midnight they eat 12 grapes one with every toll to bring good luck for the next 12 months of the New Year. Sometimes the grapes are washed down with wine. Theatre productions and movies are interrupted to carry out this custom. The tradition is meant to secure twelve happy months in the coming year.
The New Year is one of the most important holidays in Japan because it is a symbol of renewal. In December, various Bonenkai or “forget-the-year parties” are held to bid farewell to the problems and concerns of the past year and prepare for a new beginning. Misunderstandings and grudges are forgiven and houses are scrubbed. At midnight on Dec. 31, Buddhist temples strike their gongs 108 times, in a effort to expel 108 types of human weakness. In addition to the ringing of the gong, there are several other traditions from the country’s Shinto background that are followed, such as hanging a rope of straw across the front of their houses for happiness and good luck and keeping out evil spirits, and laughing at midnight to bring good luck in the New Year. Children receive otoshidamas, small gifts with money inside. Sending New Year’s cards is a popular tradition and if postmarked by a certain date, the Japanese post office guarantees delivery of all New Year’s cards on Jan. 1. The Japanese New year begins on January 1 and lasts for two weeks. These two weeks are full of hatsu, portentous “firsts”.
7. Sri Lanka
For many of the island’s population, celebrations will come a bit later in Sri Lanka than other parts of the world, since they celebrate the New Year on 13 or 14 April because they use the Hindu calendar to set the date for the festival. At this traditional time, no food is cooked and there are no lights or fires lit on the night before their New Year. Their first meal is pongal milk rice and is cooked by the father or chief male relative. They play games such as Gudu which is a game similar to cricket or baseball but with a small stick and a large stick. Of course there are also December 31st celebrations, but it is interesting to note that there alternate festivities.
One interesting tradition to bring in the New Year in Bulgaria is Ladouvane is a maidens’ rite performed on the day before New Year only in Western Bulgaria, the Central Balkan Range and in some regions along the Danube River. In the rest of the country, it is celebrated on Midsummer Day. Preparations start early in the morning. Girls in the village drop their rings, as well as oats and barley, the symbols of fertility, into a caldron full of spring water, all the rings fastened with a red thread to a bunch of perennial plants, such as ivy, crane’s bill, or basil. The cauldron was left overnight in the open, under the stars, and on New Year’s Eve, following a ritual dance around it, the girls’ fortunes were told. For the men, after midnight they set out with their sourvachka, a highly decorated twig, and tap their friends and family on the back with the decorated twigs while wishing health, longevity and success.
In Egypt the New Year is a public holiday and has a very festive atmosphere. Although they know in advance when the New Year begins they still observe the custom of the new crescent moon must be seen before the official announcement is made. The sighting is carried out at the Muhammad Ali mosque which is at the top of the hill in Cairo. The message is then passed on to the religious leader known as the Grand Mufti and he proclaims the New Year. The men who have been waiting outside the mosque wish each other a happy New Year by saying “Kol Sana We Enta Tayeb!” and then go home to tell their families. Then all families sit down for a special New Year dinner. On this day even the poorest of family serves some meat, and of course, alcohol is not part of the Egyptian celebration due to the tenets of the Muslim culture (unless of course the family is Coptic).
January 1st is an important date in Greece because it is not only the first day of the New Year but it is also St. Basil’s Day. St Basil was one the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church. There are many special dishes that are prepared at New Year but the most important dish is Vassilopitta or St Basil’s cake, inside the cake is placed a silver or gold coin. The cake is distributed in accordance to a strict order. First piece is for St Basil, the second for the house, the next for the most senior member of the household down to the youngest member and also including absent members. There may also be a piece of cake for the cattle and a large piece for the poor. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of cake will be lucky for the next year. The tradition of the New Year Cake came from the story about Saint Basil who it is said told how he helped the poor people to pay their taxes. The story goes that he took some jewelry from each person and gave it to the Governor. The Governor was sorry for the poor people and so he gave the jewelry back, they only problem was Basil did not know who owned each piece of jewelry. This is when it is told the miracle occurred. He baked each piece inside a loaf and when the loaves were given out, everyone had their own jewelry in the piece of loaf.
The coming of the new year in Taiwan centres around honouring traditions, ancestors and elders and preparing for a prosperous year to come. New Year’s Eve is spent bidding farewell to the old year and thanking one’s ancestors and the gods for their blessing and protection. Children who have left their homes return on this day to share New Year’s Eve Dinner with their families, and for those unable to make the journey, a table setting is placed to symbolize their presence in spirit if not in body. The first day of the new year is spent worshiping family ancestors, following which the streets become filled with people making New Year’s visits to friends and relatives and with the lively display of dragon dancing, lion dancing, and other folk activities. On the second day of the New Year, married women return to their parents home to visit family, on the fourth day, the gods return to the world of the living, and on the fifth day, many new stores and old businesses open their doors for the first time due to the auspiciousness of the day. The festive air of celebration continues in this manner all the way up to the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the New Year before slowly ebbing back to normal life again.
One of the most unusual aspects of the Hmong culture is that the New Year Festival is celebrated with everyone in the community, which is an unusual situation since it is the only time of the year that no work is done. The Hmong do not celebrate the New Year on the official date all the time as it may not coincide with the end of the harvesting of the rice. It is also preferable that the New Year festival coincide with other nearby villages so that the unmarried men of the village can meet perspective wives in other communities. The New Year festival must be at least three days as it was considered bad luck for it to last a day that was an even number. It can last a month to a month and a half. The three most important aspects of the festival are (1) religious rituals must be observed; (2) matchmaking among the young people; (3) display of wealth. Religious rituals take place on the last day of the old year which is called hnub peb caug or the thirtieth day.
Some aspects of the festivities include keeping the good spirits happy such as asking for their assistance for the year ahead, while there are also rituals that remove the bad spirits. One of these is the Sweeping of the House and The Magic Rope. The house is thoroughly swept, the dirt taken outside and placed near a rope that has been tied to a tree in a loop. They then jump in and out of the rope loop, this is done to confuse the dirt spirits who try to follow but only get confused and decide to go away. By doing this the Hmong people get rid of evil and bad luck at each New Year.
1. In Any Language – Happy New Year!
Arabic: Kul ‘aam u antum salimoun
Brazilian: Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo means “Good Parties and Happy New Year”
Chinese: Chu Shen Tan
Czechoslavakia: Scastny Novy Rok
Dutch: Gullukkig Niuw Jaar
Finnish: Onnellista Uutta Vuotta
French: Bonne Annee
German: Prosit Neujahr
Greek: Eftecheezmaenos o Kaenooryos hronos
Hebrew: L’Shannah Tovah Tikatevu
Hindi: Niya Saa Moobaarak
Irish (Gaelic): Bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit
Italian: Buon Capodanno
Khmer: Sua Sdei tfnam tmei
Laotian: Sabai dee pee mai
Polish: Szczesliwego Nowego Roku
Portuguese: Feliz Ano Novo
Russian: S Novim Godom
Serbo-Croatian: Scecna nova godina
Spanish: Feliz Ano Neuvo
Prospero Ano Nuevo
Turkish: Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
Vietnamese: Cung-Chuc Tan-Xuan