New Year’s Traditions
Not much longer until we welcome 2020. People from all over the world have set their New Year’s resolutions and are excitedly looking forward to yet another chance to put them into practice. Thereby, every country has its own New Year’s traditions, customs, and superstitions, which are said to bring good luck. Some of them might seem reasonable to you, others rather strange.
Owing to the fourth century Pope Sylvester I., made a saint by the Catholic church, Germans call their New Year’s Eve Silvester. The traditions begin in the afternoon, when ‘Dinner for one’, an 18-minute sketch, is on TV. And not only this follows ‘the same procedure as every year’. People typically get together for a large and long meal, practically serving hot broth fondue or raclette. Everyone around the table can help themselves to meat, melted cheese, and sides, such as boiled potatoes, veggies, pickles, pickled onions, and a lot more. Most likely, you will drink Feuerzangenbowl, for which a rum-soaked sugarloaf is set on fire and drips into mulled wine. As decoration there are small gifts like marzipan pigs and four-leaf clovers on everyone’s place at the table, symbolising luck. After finishing up dinner, a very popular tradition is melting little lead figurines and casting them into water to read the coming year’s future. It’s great fun figuring out what the newly formed shapes look like and what it could stand for. After counting down the last seconds of the old year, it might be hard to hear any new year wishes. There are fireworks everywhere! They are sold in the last three days of the year and can legally be fired on 31st December and 1st January.
A prominent part of the United States’ New Years celebrations is the ball drop in Times Square, New York City. Broadcasted nationally and internationally, about 1 billion viewers watch the 11,875-pound time ball, covered in Waterford crystals, descend from the specially designed flagpole in the last minute of the year. The spectacle is accompanied by live entertainment, such as performances by famous musicians. At midnight, the ball rests and thereby signalises the new year. The key scene, which we are more than familiar with from lots of films, is, of course, the New Year’s kiss. It prevents loneliness during the coming year and wards off evil spirits. Americans, just as everyone else, like to eat. A lot. Especially, when it comes to the Southern peas and rice dish Hoppin’ John. That’s because the black-eyed peas symbolise coins. Eating them on New Year’s Day promises prosperity and good luck in the upcoming year.
The Frenchwomen and Frenchmen love to eat and celebrate together. So, having a big dinner and a fun party at home with family and friends is the way most of them prefer to spend their New Year’s Eve. They indulge in culinary specialties like goose, turkey, foie gras, and oysters. The parties are often themed costume parties or people at least dress up very elegant. Midnight is the highlight of the party. People go out on the streets to watch the fireworks, kiss each other on both cheeks, and wish a bonne année! In the morning of 1st January, the French write cards, wishing love and goodwill, which they later exchange over lunch. Afterwards, many go out or turn on their TVs to watch one of the popular parades, for example on Champs–Elysées. Another widespread custom is giving les étrennes which used to be a small amount of money or candy for children in the past, but is nowadays commonly used to describe the bonus given by the people to those who regularly work for them, like cleaners and postmen. And because the French like to celebrate so much, the Holiday period in France extends up until Epiphany, or Three Kings’ Day, when they serve Galette de rois, King Cake, which is a puff pastry, stuffed with almond cream.
NYE party hotspot: Light Show on the Champs–Elysées towards Arc de Triomphe in Paris & fireworks at the French Riviera.
One of the most popular Spanish New Year’s Eve traditions are the 12 lucky grapes. What might be looking slightly bizarre to many of us is a widespread New Year’s tradition in Spain. During the last 12 seconds of the old year, Spaniards put 12 grapes in a row in their mouths. Those represent all months of the new year. If you manage to swallow all of them until the clock strikes midnight, you will have luck in el año nuevo. For lunch on New Year’s Day a commonly served dish is Lentejas con Chorizo, lentil soup with chorizo. All the lentils represent coins and are believed to bring wealth. For drinks there is lots of cava. Drop a strawberry, a cherry or a raspberry in the sparkling wine to find love, a golden object for fortune, and a golden wedding ring for fidelity and drink the whole glass to make your wish for the next year come true. Many Spanish people believe that you must take the first step of the year with the right foot – literally. Others say that it is much rather important to enter your house for the first time in the new year with the right foot or that you should be leaving the house for the first time on New Year’s Day with the right foot.
There’s lots to prepare on 31 December in Mexico. People clean their houses from inside out (the direction is important!) and sweep the floors with cinnamon water. They take baths and wash their cars. All that is supposed to stand for the desired renewal in the upcoming year. When it starts getting dark, every light in the house will be turned on to radiate prosperity and success. Here too, as in Spain, you will find people trying to swallow the 12 lucky grapes before midnight for good luck on New Year’s Eve. However, there are many more customs when the clock strikes 12 signalising the new year, depending what you want the next year to bring. Take your empty suitcase around the block – it symbolises the distance you will travel in the new year. You could use some cash? Symbolically sweep out the old at midnight, toss 12 coins on the ground, and sweep them into the house. Equally important is what you are wearing on New Year’s Eve. Red underwear symbolises love and passing in the New Year, green clothes stand for health, pink ones for true love and friendship, and yellow for happiness. And most importantly: Do not wear black clothes!
In Italy too, people should bear in mind what colour of clothes to wear. Especially when it comes to underwear. If you want to have good luck in the upcoming year, you should wear red underwear. Dinner also is full of traditions. Zampone or cotechino e lenticchie, pig’s trotter or sausage and lentils, are sold in many stores, already starting in November. That’s because eating fatty sausages and many lentils before midnight is a good omen for the next year, considering the financial forecast. To finish off dinner, dried fruit and grapes are served, since it is believed that it takes great willpower to conserve grapes from the harvest all the way until New Year’s Eve. Therefore, everyone at the table will handle their wealth wisely. Watch out when wandering the streets in Italy on New Year’s Eve! There’s a high possibility that old pans, pots, clothes, etc. are thrown out of the window in order to symbolically let go of the unhappiness. Of course, what cannot be missing in Italy as in many other countries are fireworks lightning up the sky to finish their festa.
Hungary / Romania
In the night of the 31st, everywhere in the country people make a lot of noise in their houses in order to scare away demons. To connect the old and the new year, in a part of Romania called Transylvania, people roll a fiery wheel down a hill. A lot that must be respected on the first day of the new year involves food. Eating pork, lentils, and beans is a sign of good luck and are symbols of wealth. Eating poultry and fish on the other hand is highly unadvisable. That’s because chicken can scratch away your luck and fish can swim away. Hungarians also believe that if the first visitor in the new year is a man, you’ll be lucky, if it’s a woman, you’ll be unlucky, and that arguments, doing laundry and sewing should be avoided. Also, do not remove anything from your house that day, because this could lead to poverty. After all the partying, try some korhely soup made from cabbage, sausage and sour cream – it works wonders against hangovers. Boldog Új Évet Kívánok! (Happy New Year!)
NYE party hotspot: Buda Castle in Budapest.
Prepare yourself for fireworks everywhere! You can easily buy them in special shops in Holland. Everyone can shoot them on 31st December and 1st January, and in addition there are loads of public fireworks. Also, prepare yourself to eat a lot. Most families make homemade Oliebollen, deep-fried batter, sometimes with raisins, and Appelbeignets, apple rings dipped in batter and deep fried. They snack on them all day – delicious. To get the chance to start the new year as a multimillionaire, many Dutchmen take part in the Oudejaarslot, a lottery with the highest jackpot of the year. Another New Year’s tradition that went a little bit out of hand last year are the competing bonfires in two neighbouring cities by the coast. What used to be Christmas trees are now piled palettes. The towns kind of overdid it and built the piles over 50 metres (instead of the authorised 30 metres). The aftermath were ash, smoke and burning hair and coats everywhere. In the morning of New Year’s Day, those who want to start the new year fresh can participate in diving into the ice-cold North Sea.
Everyone knows that Brazilians know how to celebrate properly. And New Year’s Eve is no exception! Besides the many parties taking place, Brazilians maintain many traditions. You’ll see everyone wearing white as a sign of peace and an homage to the god Oxala. As a symbol for wealth, many eat pomegranate seeds and carry lots of cash symbolising the forecast for their finances in the new year. For good luck many keep a bay leaf in their pocket and eat lentils. For even more good luck, jump into the ocean when the clock strikes midnight and jump over 7 waves, but face the waves head on! Make a wish for every wave. Or as an alternative, stand on an elevated surface. Step down with your right foot first after midnight to start the new year on the right foot!
In the UK you’ll find that people are taking parties very seriously on New Year’s Eve. Almost everyone goes out or invites friends and family members over to have dinner, a drink and celebrate together. It’s also very common for the Englishmen to make New Year’s resolutions, when the old year comes to an end. In those they resolve to change a bad trait or behaviour, or to accomplish something in the upcoming year. A rather old, but widely spread tradition is singing the folk song Auld Lang Syne, while crossing arms. It’s about forgiving, forgetting, and moving on – exactly what the new year should be about. However, the biggest New Year’s celebration, Hogmanay, takes place in Scotland. The Scots celebrate it in an even more celebratory manner than Christmas. It goes on for three whole days – until 2nd January! There are festivities taking place everywhere during those days, having its roots in the winter solstice among the Vikings.
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