New Year's History & Traditions

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Global Customs

Most modern celebrations have returned to the view of New Year's as a time for joyous celebration. Most contemporary gatherings are marked by an abundance of food, drink, and the gathering of friends and family.

Perhaps no other country in the world rings in the New Year with as much fanfare as Scotland does with the celebration of Hogmanay (pronounced hog-mah-NAY). On December 31, family and friends hold open houses and wait for the "first foot" to enter the home after midnight. It is believed that good luck and prosperity will come if a dark-haired gentleman is the first to cross the threshold on New Year's Day.

In Japan, New Year's preparations begin in December and conclude on January 3. Houses are cleaned from top to bottom and postcards are sent to friends, family, and business clients to express thanks and offer best wishes for the year ahead. A traditional meal consists of long soba noodles, which are to be eaten without breaking them to ensure long life. It is also believed to be an auspicious omen if a person dreams of a hawk, Mount Fuji, or an eggplant on New Year's Eve.

Other cultures have a rather ironic approach to securing health and good fortune. In Italy, pots, pans, and dishes are flung out of open windows as a symbolic gesture of getting rid of the old to make way for the new. Empty vodka bottles are hurled in the air in Red Square in Moscow, and in Denmark people leap off chairs to "jump" into the New Year.

Less dangerous is the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight. Recalling a celebration of a gigantic grape harvest at the turn of the century, Spanish people eat one grape for each chime of the Plaza del Sol clock to commemorate luck in the past and to hope for more in the future.

Sadly, drunk drivers are a modern danger of New Year's Eve. In response to this, alcohol-free "First Night" celebrations have been popping up in cities all over America. These generally involve dancing, music, and other family activities. If you drink on New Year's Eve, select a designated driver, stay overnight at the party location, or plan an alternate way to get home.

However you celebrate this new year, here's hoping your old year was filled with blessings and your new year is filled with good fortune.

Continued on page 3:  Top Traditions


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