around the globe
The way the world celebrates: Ringing in the New Year with grapes, games, feastsand “first-footing”
Champagne. Times Square. Midnight kisses. Dick Clark. In the US, there are plenty of New Year’s traditions, from the writing of resolutions to the blowouts that mark the calendar’s official switch to, well, the new year.
It’s one of the few “holidays” celebrated around the world, a non-denominational party to welcome in the new. How do other countries celebrate?
The traditional holiday tune “Auld Lang Syne” hails from Scotland, a country that’s also mastered the social aspect of the evening, making visits with friends a key part of Hogmanay, the official NYE celebration. Termed “first-footing,” these social calls take place after midnight, going into the wee hours while friends travel from house to house wishing each other well and bearing gifts (of shortbread, for snacks, or coal, for the fire). Parties tend to go all night, spilling into the streets, with Edinburgh in particular hosting an epic annual gathering.
Neighbors in The Netherlands also traditionally spend their NYE outdoors, marrying the two year-end holidays by burning Christmas tree bonfires under skies filled with fireworks.
Greece also combines their celebrations, with the Festival of St. Basil falling on New Year’s Day. The saint — one of the founders of the Orthodox church — is honored with a traditional feast, which boasts its own version of the king cake; whoever finds the gold coin in their slice of St. Basil’s Cake can expect a year of luck.
In Spain, and Mexico, it’s considered bad luck not to partake in one tasty tradition: eating 12 grapes at midnight, a superstition that supposedly ensures twelve happy months in the new year.
Similarly, in Estonia, it’s tradition to eat seven, nine or 12 meals on New Year’s Eve (the numbers are considered lucky); each meal eaten symbolizes the strength of that many men.
The Japanese consider the New Year’s, or oshogatsu, one of the most important holidays, beginning their celebration early in December with “forget-the-year” parties (bonenkai ) meant to give the past twelve months a proper goodbye. While fun and festivity have their place, there’s plenty of focus on forgiveness; friends are encouraged to let bygones be bygones, and start the new year with a clean slate. Similarly, at midnight on the big day, Buddhist temples across the nations sound their gongs 108 times, a symbolic ritual that’s meant to cleanse the 108 types of human weaknesses noted in their texts.
Belgium welcomes the new year with comedy, broadcasting stand up specials on TV that lampoon the passing year (the oudjaar).
Every country has it’s own way of celebrating, just like every city here in the US has it’s own First Night festivities. What’s your favorite way to ring in the New Year?