Archives for December 2017

The Different Ways of Celebrating New Year all over the World

Nowadays, we tend to think of New Year’s celebrations as explosions of colourful fireworks and the peeling of church bells but there are many varied and, at times, peculiar ways in which New Year is celebrated round the world.

While England seems to have more traditions associated with Christmas, this was not always the case. The Celts celebrated their New Year with the festival of Samhain on 31st October and their New Year on 1st November with fire using flames to represent light and life springing from death and darkness as well as smoke to ward off evil spirits. In 153 BC, however, the Romans decided that New Year would be 1st January and in 1572 Pope Gregory introduced the Gregorian Calendar to establish more consistency around Easter. Catholic countries followed suit but Protestant Britain resisted until 1752 when it finally switched for trading purposes. Nowadays, the Celtic fire rituals still remain central to festivals in modern Scotland and Northern England. On New Year’s Eve in Stonehaven, Grampian, a parade of sixty kilted marchers with pipes and drums swirl balls of fire on wire ropes around their heads. In Allendale, Northumberland, a procession of men in fancy dress called ‘guisers’ carry tubs of flaming tar above their heads to the town square where they are launched onto a bonfire. The last one is thrown to coincide with midnight when the flames reach their zenith and the church bells ring in the New Year.

Sound has become central to the dying of the old year and the bringing in of the new. Church bells ring, ships blast their horns in ports and people run out into the streets banging pots and pans. In Ireland bread is thrown at walls to get rid of evil spirits while Scots celebrate Hogmanay on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day there is the tradition of First Footing in both Scotland and Wales when a dark-haired man lets in the New Year for good luck. He leaves the house by the back door just before midnight on New Year’s Eve and on the strike of midnight knocks on the front door. The householder opens the door and receives salt for seasoning, silver for wealth, coal for warmth, a match for kindling and bread for sustenance. In Victorian times in Wales, it was also considered unlucky to lend anything on New Year’s Day.

In Europe, there are many colourful New Year traditions. In Denmark, unused dishes are saved until the 31st December when they are affectionately shattered against the doors of friends and family. The Danes also climb on top of chairs so that they can jump into the New Year. In Spain, it is reckoned that stuffing twelve grapes into one’s mouth at midnight will bring good luck for the next year, whereas in Switzerland ice cream is dropped onto the floor. In Romania spare coins are thrown into the river for good luck while in Belgium it is the cows who are wished a Happy New Year. In France pancakes are the New Year delicacy whereas in Estonia food is eaten seven times to ensure abundance. In Siberia folk jump into frozen lakes carrying tree trunks while in Finland predictions for the coming year are made by casting molten tin into a bucket of water.

New Year celebrations are not confined to Europe. In some parts of South Africa old furniture is thrown out of the window. In the Philippines, food is baked in circles and coins collected because of the belief that everything round will bring good luck. In Japan bells are rung 108 times for cleanness, whereas in Thailand people throw buckets of water onto each other before they smear each other with grey talcum powder.

Central and South America is home to some of the more bizarre customs. In a small Peruvian village, fist fights settle differences so that the New Year can be begun with a clean slate whereas in Panama, effigies of the famous are burned. Seven waves are jumped in Brazil whereas paper filled scarecrows are burned at midnight in Ecuador along with photographs from the previous year. In some parts of Puerto Rico pails of water are thrown out of windows to drive away evil spirits, coins are baked into sweets in Bolivia to bring good luck and suitcases are carried in Colombia to encourage a year full of travel. And that is not all. In some parts of South America, coloured underwear will determine fate for the New Year with red for love, gold for wealth and white for peace. Chile has one of the more gruesome traditions, however, when families spend the night in the company of their deceased loved ones by sleeping at the cemetery.

New Year, therefore, can be a most colourful time, so, wherever you are in the world, here’s wishing the entire world a wonderful New Year and a 2018 blessed with peace, health and harmony.

Love Laurelle