NEW YEAR AROUND THE WORLD
New Year festivals are among the oldest and most universally observed. They generally include rites and ceremonies which are expressive of mortification, purgation, invigoration and jubilation over the renewal of life. In some countries, parties are thrown on New Year's Eve which last until the early hours of New Year's Day. It is traditional to greet the New Year at midnight and then celebrate at least the first few minutes in the company of friends and family. Many people make New Year resolutions...a list of decisions about how they will live during the coming year, which may or may not be kept.
New Year's Eve is known as the Eve of Saint Sylvester or Sylvesterabend. According to legend, Saint Sylvester (or, according to Polish lore, Pope Sylvester) slew an evil monster-dragon known as the Leviathon in 1000 A.D., the year widely predicted at that time to be Judgment Day. The Leviathon was supposed to rise, devour the land and the people and set fire to the heavens. He did rise and was vanquished. The Leviathon, a serpent-dragon with shiny scales who fed on other dragons, was so large that its multicolored coils encircled the Earth. In Switzerland, the people parade through the streets dressed in costumes and hats, representative of good and evil spirits.
In Brazil, where the lentil is believed to signify wealth, the first meal of the New Year is either lentil soup or lentils with rice.
In Cambodia, where the Indian Calendar is used to calculate the beginning of the New Year festival, the celebrations begin on either April 12th, 13th or 14th (according to the Gregorian Calendar) and continue for three days. Houses are cleaned and decorated and an altar is erected to welcome Tevada Chhnam Thmey, the New Year Spirit who is believed to visit Earth at this time. A statute of Buddha is placed upon the altar, along with flowers, candles, incense, a bowl of scented water, food, drink and banana leaves shaped into various figures. On the first day of the festival, people visit the local monastery and offer food to the monks. The mound is decorated with five religious flags (one atop the mound and four around the sides). On day two, people gather with their families to wish each other Happy New Year and exchange gifts. Sometimes, they will revisit the monastery in order to ask the monks to say a special prayer for their ancestors. On day three, the Buddha statues in the home and the monasteries are washed. It is believed that this practice will ensure good rains during the coming year. Children also wash the feet of their parents on this day as a sign of respect.
In British Columbia, the traditional polar bear swim takes place. People of all ages don bathing suits and plunge into the icy-cold water which surrounds Vancouver during the Winter.
The Chinese New Year, known as Yuan Tan, takes place sometime between January 21st and February 20th, the exact date being fixed by the Lunar Calendar, in which a New Moon marks the beginning of each month. Yuan Tan is celebrated by Chinese people all over the world. For many families, it is a time of feasting, visiting relatives and friends. In the cities, spectacular processions are arranged. The celebrations are intended to bring luck, health, wealth and happiness. Houses are cleaned in order to rid them of the previous year's bad luck before the festivities begin. Street parades are held where thousands of people gather to watch the procession of floats weave their way through the crowds. The dragon is a popular figure, associated in particular with longevity and wealth. Inside the costumes will be as many as 50 dancers, all twisting and turning the dragon's long, silk body and blinking eyes. Since the Chinese believe that evil spirits dislike loud noises, they decorate their houses with plastic firecrackers in order to ward off any bad luck that the spirits might bring. Often, doors and windows are sealed with paper to keep out such evil spirits. Plants and flowers are purchased in order to ensure good luck for the coming year. The Kumquat tree is considered to be the luckiest...its name a play on the word "lucky." The peach blossom is also a favorite and the tangerine is also considered lucky because of its bright color. However, since odd numbers are considered unlucky, the tangerines are always purchased or given as gifts in pairs. When the New Year is associated with a particular animal, then the meat of that animal is not eaten for the first day of the year. For several days prior to New Year's Eve, housewives clean and redecorate their homes. Favored foods at this time are those thought to ensure wealth and happiness for the coming year, such as black moss seaweed and dried bean curd.
The New Year is a public holiday and is very festive in atmosphere. Although it is known in advance when the New Year begins, Egyptians still observe the custom that the new crescent moon must be seen before the official announcement is made. The sighting is carried out at the Muhammed Ali mosque, located at the top of a hill in Cairo. The message is then passed onto the religious leader known as the Grand Mufti who then proclaims the New Year. On New Year's Day, everyone wears special clothes and even the females, who customarily wear only black, are allowed to don bright colors. The children are given shaped sweets...moulded into the figure of a boy on horseback for the males and a girl wearing a dress for the females. The sweets are surrounded by colored paper fashioned like an accordian. For adults, the New Year is a time for visiting friends.GERMANY
New Year's Eve in Germany is a rather quiet affair compared to many other nations. It is a time for family gatherings and parties tend to be low-key, consisting of relatives and close friends. At midnight, a toast is customarily made with champagne or Sekt and everyone says, "Prosit Neujahr!. Often, there are firework displays which people usually watch from the windows of their homes. One popular custom is Bleigiessen, where a candle is lit and small chunks of lead are melted in a spoon held over the candle. The molten lead is then quickly dropped into cold water, whereupon it hardens almost immediately. Each person then tries to determine what he or she "sees" in the hardened lead figure in an attempt to tell the future from the shape which forms. Often, the lead figure is held up to the candle or other light in order to better discern the shape from the shadow which it casts. A heart or ring means a wedding...a ship foretells of a journey...a pig signifies plenty of food. Today, Silvesterblei kits may be purchased from most German department stores, complete with lead nuggets, a spoon and a list of possible shapes and their meanings.
Food consumed on Silvester, the German New Year's Eve, traditionally consists of lentil or split pea soup accompanied by Wiener Wurstchen (usually prepared a few days ahead of the celebration), which is served with a meat or cheese fondue. It is also customary to leave a little of the food eaten on New Year's Day on the plate until after Midnight. This is thought to ensure a well-stocked larder. Carp is often part of the meal since it is believed to bring wealth. Other popular food items are herring for good luck and cabbage or carrots for financial security.
In England crowds sometimes gather in Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus waiting to hear the chimes of London's Big Ben, which announces the arrival of the New Year. Arms are linked and there is usually a rendering of "Auld Lang Syne." The custom of "first-footing" is important. To ensure good luck for the inhabitants of a house, the first person to enter on New Year's Day should be male, young, healthy and good-looking. He should preferably be dark-haired and carrying a small piece of coal, money, bread and salt. These things symbolize wealth. Women and those people with blonde or red hair are considered unlucky "first-footers." The giving of gifts traditionally took place during New Year, when the Lord Mayor of London was given samples of produce by his tenants and peasants and, in turn, presented a valuable gift to the reigning monarch. This practice no longer takes place.
In Ireland, the New Year festival was once Celtic in nature and known as Samhain, meaning "Summer End." It was celebrated on October 31st and has survived as the modern day Halloween. It was at this time that the Celts held their General Assembly, when laws were renewed and accounts of events (such as births, deaths and marriages) recorded. It was considered to be a very dangerous time, since this was when the spirits of the dead could return to Earth. It was believed that these spirits could do harm unless precautions were taken. The priests would go into the woods on New Year's Eve to gather bunches of mistletoe, which they handed out to people as protection from harm, and bonfires were lit to drive away evil forces. Generally, it was considered safer to stay indoors during New Year's Eve since fairies were also abroad.
In more modern times, girls have been known to go to bed on New Year's Eve with a sprig of mistletoe or holly and ivy leaves beneath their pillows, in order that they might dream of their future husbands. The direction of the wind at New Year is traditionally an indication of the trend in politics for the coming year. If it blew from the west, then the fortunes of Ireland would flourish, but if it blew from the east, then the English would gain the upper hand. A very large supper is always eaten on New Year's Eve, the belief being that this ensures plenty of food for the coming year. One ancient Irish custom which was formerly practiced each New Year's Eve was to take a large loaf of Christmas bread or large slice of Christmas cake outside the house and hammer it against the closed doors and windows. This was done in order to drive out any misfortune and allow happiness to enter.
In Scotland, where the celebration is called "Hogmany" (derived from a type of oat cake which was traditionally given to children on New Year's Eve), it is believed that there cannot be a New Year until the Old Year has gone. Since the Old Year is considered evil and must be banished, an effigy of Death is paraded around the town or city and is then buried, drowned or burned. This dummy may be made of straw, twigs or rags and is known as the "Auld Wife." In some villages, barrels of tar are set alight and rolled through the streets. Thus, the Old Year is burned-up and the New Year allowed to enter. Preparations for the New Year include the cleaning of houses, believed to be an ancient purification ritual. In years gone by, burning juniper bushes would be carried through the home to remove any lurking germs and diseases. The traditional New Year meal consisted of Haggis, shortbread, scones, oat cakes, cheese, whiskey, wine and New Year black buns. The first person to rise in the morning would take the "Het Pint," a spiced ale, to those family members who were still in bed.
As in England, the custom of "first-footing" is an important tradition, as is the singing of "Auld Lang Syne" at Midnight. Merriment in Scotland is saved primarily for the New Year as opposed to Christmas, which is observed in a more sombre fashion.
In Wales, it was an ancient custom for the boys of the village go from house to house on New Year's morning at around 4 o'clock. Using an evergreen twig, they would sprinkle the inhabitants and then perform the same ceremony in each room of the home. This was believed to bring good luck.
January 1st is an important day in the Greek calendar. Not only is it the first day of the year, it is also Saint Basil's Day. Saint Basil was one of the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church. He is remembered for his kindess and generosity to the poor. Saint Basil is believed to have died on January 1st. New Year is perhaps even more festive than Christmas since it is the main day for gift-giving and for telling stories of how Saint Basil would come in the night and leave presents in children's shoes. There are many special dishes prepared but the most important is Vassilopitta or Saint Basily's Cake. Inside the cake is place a silver or gold coin and pieces are distributed in accordance with strict order. The first slice is for Saint Basil, the second for the house, the next for the most senior family member on down to the youngest member...a piece is even cut for those household members who are absent and there may also be a slice for the cattle. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of cake will be blessed with luck during the coming year. In addition to Saint Basil's Cake, there is usually an abundance of food, including Kourabiedes Shortbread, thiples and honey. The table is often decorated with olive-branches, nuts, fresh fruit and other symbols of happiness and wealth. The first person across the threshold on New Year's Day is said to bring the family luck throughout the year to come. Traditionally, either the father or a "lucky child" is the first to cross the threshold...a "lucky child" is one who has both parents still living.
The people in Hong Kong are not allowed to set off real firecrackers at the New Year. Instead, they use plastic firecrackers as decorations. Most people favor red as the color for clothing and decorations since it is associated with joy and happiness. Lucky money is distributed in red envelopes with the family name and a good luck message written in gold. These are given on by relatives to the children of the family and any unmarried members only. The New Year feast is always a large one for the first day of the year.
Effigies of a scapegoat known as "Jack Straw" are burned. These effigies represent the evils and misfortunes of the past year. "Jack Straw" is carried around the village before being committed to the flames.
The basis for the Indian New Year is a classic tale of good conquering evil. When Prince Rama, rightful heir to his father's throne, was banished to the forest for 14 years by his wicked stepmother, Rama's wife was kidnapped by the evil Demon King Ravan, ruler of a neighboring land. A battle ensued and Rama, aided by the monkey warrior Hanuma, rescued his wife, defeated Ravan and returned to his kingdom to reclaim his throne. In celebration of Rama's victory, people feasted and lit oil lamps in their homes. Such was the first Indian New Year celebration known as Diwali, meaning "Row of Lights."
Today, the festival falls in late October or early November and is celebrated according to regional customs. In Northern India, for example, every town and village glows with thousands of lights and homes are decorated with little oil lamps called diwa, intended to drive out evil and replace it with goodness. People try to complete any unfinished work since Diwali marks the end of the year. Businesses pay off all debts and new account books are blessed before the New Year. People buy new things for their homes, or purchase new tools or even new clothes. Cards and gifts are exchanged, New Year resolutions are made and all quarrels are forgiven and forgotten, since this is a time of year to be happy and generous. Even the animals who have been worked are washed, groomed and decorated for the festival.
Japan adopted the solar calendar system in the late Nineteenth Century, abandoning the lunar system that had been used for centuries. Thus, New Year's Day or Gantan arrives on the January 1st, the same day as it does for most countries outside of Asia. Nevertheless, Japan's festivities are no less colorful or steeped in tradition than those of its Eastern neighbors. Buddhist temples ring their bells shortly before Midnight on New Year's Eve and people count along with the 108 pealings, which represent the hardships and sorrows of the past year. When the tolling comes to an end, the New Year has begun and everyone begins to laugh, believing that such an action will bring them good luck in the New Year. On New Year's Day, it is believed that how "firsts" are executed is crucial, including the first visit to the Shinto or Buddhist temples. Tasks performed on New Year's Day must include a trip to the ocean to witness the hatsu hinode, or "first sunrise," which is said to bring good health throughout the entire year. Japanese celebrations begin during the last few days of December and last through the first few days of January...usually five to six days. Most stores and offices close during this period. A proper welcome to the New Year is essential to Japanese culture. So much so, that most people take a few days off prior to the holiday in order to make preparations, including the meticulous cleaning of houses and the hanging of straw ropes across the front of homes to keep out evil spirits and ensure happiness and good luck.
On New Year's Day, children are given otoshi-dama, a cash allowance that is known as the "New Year's Treasure." Red snapper is a popular New Year celebration dish because the Japanese word for "red snapper" rhymes with their word for "happy." Red snapper is also pink, which is considered a lucky color in Japan.
Caught between two calendars and, consequently, two New Year celebrations, Korea tends to celebrate the lunar New Year or Sol with much less pomp than other Asian nations. There are no firecrackers, ornate dragon heads or beauty pageants. It is basically a reflective time to spend with family and the worship of ancestors. However, feasting does pay a large role in the festivities with favored dishes being dumplings, soups, rice, noodles and sweet fruits. Sol is often observed by the donning traditional dress, gifts of envelopes containing money to younger members of the family and taking a day off from work.
The people of Lao celebrate the New Year according to the ancient Hindu calendar. The festival lasts for three days, falling on April 13th, 14th or 15th according to the Gregorian Calendar, and coincides with the end of the dry season and the start of the rains. This period, known as Pinai, is considered as a time of rebirth and purification. The first day, Sangkhan Long, is believed to be the last day of the Old Year and people traditionally clean their houses in preparation for the New Year's arrival. They carry sand and silver bowls of scented water, which is used to help the monks clean the statues of Buddha, while the sand is used to build mounds in the courtyards of the temples. These mounds are usually built on river banks and decorated with flags, flowers, money and candles. After which, wishes are made.
The second day, Mueu Nao is considered a dangerous time because the spirit of the Old Year has departed but the spirit of the New Year has yet to arrive. Therefore, there is no spirit to protect the people from any misfortune. For this reason, many people stay in their homes and use the day as a time of rest. The third day, Sangkhan Kheun begins the New Year and is the most joyous day of the festival. People go to the temples with offerings of prayers, food and flowers before returning home for a special family ceremony to welcome the New Year. This ceremony is called Soukhouane and, as well as being performed on New Year, is also part of any important occasion, such as a birth or death or marriage.
Soukhouane is performed while sitting around a table decorated with bowls of flowers containing candles known as baci. Offerings, such as food and drink, are placed under the baci and the family is joined by a morporn, a highly-respected member of the community who recites appropriate prayers. The morporn has a piece of string tied to his finger which is attached to the baci, as do the senior family members. After the ceremony, the morporn is offered whiskey which has been placed beneath the baci. By tradition, he initially refuses the gift, but later accepts. The whiskey is then shared with all the adults in the family.
On New Year's Day, the releasing of captive animals is performed. This is thought to bring good fortune to those who give the animals their freedom. Sometimes, cages are built for the released animals, so they might return if they choose to do so.
In the Netherlands, people burn Christmas trees on street bonfires and hold firework displays to herald in the New Year. This practice is also considered to be a means of driving away the spirits of the old year. Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring symbolizes good luck, since it is indicative of "coming full circle" and thus completing the cycle of a year. For this reason, the Dutch often eat donuts on New Year's Day to ensure good fortune for the coming year.
PORTUGAL AND SPAIN
The people of the Iberian Peninsula pick and eat twelve grapes from a bunch just as the clock strikes twelve on New Year's Eve. This tradition is said to ensure twelve happy months in the coming year.
With more than 50% of Singapore's population being Chinese in heritage, it is not surprising that the lunar New Year is considered a great celebration. Officially, the holiday lasts for three days, but people frequently take the entire week off from work to celebrate and visit with friends and relatives. The markets are usually bustling with shoppers who are busy buying everything from new clothes to household cleaning supplies since everything must be perfect in order to guarantee an auspicious New Year. The Chinese New Year's Eve feast doubles as a family reunion, bring relatives from both far and near back to the homeland. Meals are sumptuous and filled with symbolically lucky food items, while hong bao (red envelopes stuffed with money) are distributed to the younger family members. Recipients of these gifts are, however, expected to show self-restaint and safely stow the valuable envelopes under their pillows until the 15th day of the New Year in order to ensure good luck.
In South Africa, church bells ring in the New Year and gunshots are fired. In the Cape Province area, New Year's Day and Second New Year's Day are celebrated with a carnival atmosphere with people dressing in colorful costumes and dancing in the streets to the sound of drums.
In Sri Lanka, New Year is celebrated on April 13th or 14th. This is because the Hindu Calendar is used to set the date for the festival. Houses are cleaned or even repainted in the preceding days and several varieties of sweets are made to be eaten on New Year's Day. On New Year's Eve, it is customary to cook no food, display no lights and burn no fires. Visits are paid to family and friends with the first meal of the day being pongal milk rice cooked by the father or chief male relative. Games are played, such as Gudo, which is similar to cricket or baseball.
The Thai New Year festival is called Songkran and lasts for three days from April 13th until April 15th, according to the Gregorian Calendar. There are many customs associated with the New Year celebrations. For example, people douse each other with perfumed water to symbolize cleansing and renewal and the hope that it will bring good rains in the coming year. Another ceremony involves the tying of string around someone's wrist while reciting a short blessing prayer. It is considered a great honor to be the recipient of such a string and it is allowed to remain on the wrist until it falls off of its own accord. All the statues and images of Buddha are washed and monasteries are visited in order to pray and offer gifts of rice, fruits, sweets and other foods to the monks. One ancient good luck custom in Thailand is to release birds from their cages and carry fish to the river so that they might be released from their bowls. A game known as Saba (something like skittles) is also often played.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
New Year's Eve in the United States is a major social event. Clubs all over the nation are packed with party-goers who stay out until dawn, celebrating the advent of a New Year. The traditional New Year Ball is dropped every year in Times Square, New York City, at 12 o’clock. This televised event is often broadcast to other areas of the world.
Many Americans celebrate the New Year by visiting friends, relatives and neighbors. The traditional New Year meal consists of Many families gather to watch the various televised parades and subsequent football games. The Tournament of Roses parade began in 1887 when a zoologist who had seen such a display in France suggested to the Valley Hunt Club in Pasadena, California that an "artistic celebration of the ripening of the oranges" be held at the beginning of the year. At first, the parade was simply a line of decorated horse-drawn private carriages with athletic events being held in the afternoon and a ball in the evening where winners of the day's events were announced, together with the naming of the most beautiful float. The Rose Bowl football game was first played as a part of the Tournament of Roses in 1902 but was replaced by Roman chariot races the following year. In 1916, the football game returned as the sports centerpiece of the festival. Over time, the parade of floats grew longer and the flower decorations more elaborate. The theme of the Tournament of Roses varies from year to year and is now usually more than five miles long with thousands of participants in the marching bands and on the floats. City officials ride in the cars pulling the floats with a celebrity being chosen as the Grand arshal or Master of Ceremonies. The Queen of the Tournament rides on a special float which is always the most elaborate of the parade, being made from more than 250,000 flowers. Preparation for the following year's Tournament of Roses begins on January 2nd. In other regions of the United States, there are also football games whose names are characteristic of the particular state of origin...the Orange Bowl in Florida, the Cotton Bowl in Texas and the Sugar Bowl in Louisiana, for example.
The customary New Year meal in the United States (particularly the Southern areas) consists of black-eyed peas, rice, greens and hog jowls. This tradition is believed to have originated in South Carolina, the home of "Hoppin' John," after whom this dish is named. An old saying states: "Eat peas on New Year's day to have plenty of everything the rest of the year." Some believe that the greens stand for paper money and the black-eyed peas are thought to represent coins, while rice is the symbol of abundance. Another theory is that the origin of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day begain during the Civil War. When Northern soldiers raided the South's food supplies on one New Year's Eve night, they took all the food except for the dried black-eyed peas and salted pork. Thus, on New Years Day, all that the Southern soldiers had to eat to keep them alive were the peas and the pork...and so, it is considered good luck to eat black-eyed peas at New Year because of this event.
The popular name for the Vietnamese New Year is Tet, known officially as Tet Nguyen Dan. It is considered a very important festival because it provides one of the few breaks in the agricultural year, falling between the harvest and the sowing of new crops. The people prepare for the New Year well in advance by cleaning their houses, polishing their copperware and paying off all their debts. A special rice pudding is eaten at New Year which must be prepared beforehand. This dish, which contains mung beans and pork, is known as bahn chung or bahn tet. Other New Year foods include preserved sweets, beef, chicken, fish, oranges, coconuts, grapefruits and watermelons. Watermelon is believed to be especially lucky since its flesh is red. Therefore, choice of the melon is very carefully made in order to find one rich in such color. Often, the seeds of the melon are dyed red and served as delicacies. On the last day of the year, a plant such as a bamboo tree is planted in courtyard of the home. The tree is then adorned with bells, flowers and red streamers...but such adornments are not for decorative purposes. They serve to guarantee the family against evil spirits. During the middle of the day, an offering is placed on the household altar for the ancestors of the family. This offering, along with burning inscense, is repeated every day of the New Year festivities.
The Vietnamese believe that the first person through the door in the New Year will reflect the future luck and wealth of the family. The first day of the New Year is usually spent visiting close friends, teachers and parents. The second day is devoted to visiting in-laws and other friends who are not so close, while the third day is reserved for visits with the families of teachers and more distant relatives. Visits are also paid to the local temples and the people bring back flowers or greenery thought to be a gift from the celestial spirits. These gifts are kept in the house for the entire year. The Vietnamese also believe that the manner in which a person acts is crucial for the first three days of the new lunar period and will set the tone of the remainder of the year. Therefore, they make a great effort to be positive by avoiding arguments, smiling as much as possible and bestowing upon friends and loved ones generous gifts of ripe fruits, delicate rice cakes and red envelopes stuffed with money.