As the sun is setting on 2010 and 2011 waits for us on the horizon, the world reflects and anticipates. This annual turning is a natural time to contemplate our personal harvests and the events of the past year. It is a powerful time to make resolutions and set intention for the coming year. It is a time of rejuvenation that extends through cultures globally, and is deeply rooted in the traditions of our ancestors.
Here are some ways in which cultures from all over the world celebrate the New Year:
In China, families gather together and give thanks to their ancestors. It is customary to set off firecrackers at midnight to drive away evil spirits. This is the time to get a new haircut, buy new clothes and prepare for the coming year. It is important to pay off all debts so you can start the year off fresh. Small gifts of money in red envelopes are exchanged to stir up abundance for the coming year. Brooms are put out of sight during the first day of the New Year, so that good luck will not be swept away. Brightly colored tangerines are exchanged with loved ones. The tangerines are displayed throughout the home and are eaten at sunset of the first day of the year to signify health and happiness for the New Year. Homes are decorated in red lanterns and red is the most auspicious color to wear for happiness for the coming year.
In Romania, the children of the village gather large amounts of seeds, wheat and rice in brightly colored festive baskets. They then walk from door to door taking handfuls of seeds to throw over thresholds of homes to symbolize good luck with crops and farming and to bring abundance to a household.
In Russia, it is customary for extended family to gather together for a hearty meal of meat and potatoes. Large celebrations begin in Red Square with fireworks and the Russian version of Santa Claus known as Grandfather Frost. He is dressed in blue and gives small presents to the children at midnight to bring the New Year in with the spirit of giving and happiness.
In Egypt, children are giving candy wrapped in bright wrappers. The head of the household goes around wishing each neighbor happiness, until all the neighbors are collected and they go to the mayor’s house for a feast and celebration.
In Germany, the women of the villages would pour molten lead into cold water to predict events surrounding the New Year. Based on the images the lead would form, predictions could be made: a key meant new beginnings/adventures, and a ring meant an addition to the family through a wedding or a birth. New Year’s meals always include carp, as it was thought to bring wealth.
In England and Scotland, they celebrate a long standing tradition of the “first footing”, where the first male to walk in the house after midnight is supposed to bring either money, whiskey or cake to symbolize good luck for the household. Also, many people gather outdoors for a celebration around large fire pits to dance and celebrate. The fires are symbolic of cleansing.
Watch your head in an Italian town on New Year’s Eve, because the inhabitants literally do “out with the old” by throwing unwanted possessions from their windows. Everything that lands on the pavement is up for grabs, making street shopping a fun part of the night’s activity.
Since January 1st is summer in Australia, many people spend it having picnics and camping on the beach. Their parties start on December 31. At midnight the church bells ring and people make noise by using instruments such as rattles and whistles.
A nice custom in Belgian on January 21st is writing letters to your parents and godparents. Once the letter is written it is read aloud.
In Bali, the day before the New Year, all the statues from the temples are brought down to the sea to be purified. There are loud parades with drums and musical instruments as everyone makes as much noise as possible to scare away the bad spirits. On the actual day of the New Year (Nyepi) the entire Island is silent. Everything closes including the port – as everything must begin in silence. Everyone spends time in prayer and reflection for the New Year. Imagine absolute silence in New York, Paris, or Hong Kong. It boggles the mind. There are no traffic lights, no cars, no people on the streets …no work is done, no lamps are burned, no meals are prepared. All food is prepared the day before. Only small candles are allowed and flashlights pointed downward. No one leaves his or her compound for 24 hours.
Good Luck Food for the New Year
- In Spain 12 grapes are eaten at midnight for good luck.
- Rice cakes are served in Japan.
- No southerner would start the New Year without black-eyed peas
- In many cultures, it’s customary to hide a special trinket or coin inside a cake. Mexico’s rosca de reyes is a ring-shaped cake decorated with candied fruit and baked with one or more surprises inside. In Greece, a special round cake called vasilopita is baked with a coin hidden inside.
Prosperity and Love for 2011
One of my personal favorites is to throw money into my apartment the first time I enter after the New Year. If you are staying home, go outside after midnight and throw money over the doorway into your home. This symbolizes that your year will be filled with prosperity. I recommend that you keep the money for 24 hours and then give it away to charity. It is also said that if you want love in the New Year it is auspicious to wear red underwear on January 1st.
Barbara Biziou, author of The Joy of Ritual and The Joy of Family Rituals, is an internationally acclaimed teacher of practical spirituality and global rituals. For more information, please check out her website http://www.joyofritual.com