Back in November we looked at some Christmas customs so we thought that we’d start 2013 with some interesting ways that the New Year is celebrated around the World.
One of the most popular ways to welcome in the New Year is by singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. The song was first published in the 1796 edition of ‘The Scots Musical Museum’ by the poet Robert Burns who’d heard the song in the Ayrshire region of Scotland and rewrote the words. The title translates as ‘Old Long Since’ and means ‘times gone by’. Although a very old song the tradition of singing it at New Year is comparatively recent – band leader Guy Lombardo heard it being sung by Scottish immigrants in Ontario, and his band The Royal Canadians then played the song at midnight at a New Year’s Eve party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1929. The show was broadcast on the radio, and the song became so popular that it was then played every year.
Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year. It’s also the name given to Scottish New Year celebrations, one of the traditions of which is ‘First Footing’. After midnight neighbours visit each other bringing gifts like coal, whisky or shortbread. Like a lot of older traditions that might sound a bit funny to us today, but Scotland has more than a few odd things going on at this time of year. An old Highland custom is ‘saining’ (‘protecting’ or ‘blessing’) where ‘magic water from a dead and living ford’ (i.e. one that is regularly crossed by both living and dead people) is sprinkled around a house before smoke from burning juniper branches fills the building causing the inhabitants to cough and sneeze before all the doors and windows are opened to let the fresh New Year air in. Unsurprisingly this is then followed by drinking whisky. Almost as unlikely is Fireball Swinging which takes place in Stonehaven Aberdeenshire. Local people make up ‘balls’ of chicken wire which they fill with newspaper and other flammable material; at midnight they attach them to pieces of wire, chain or rope then walk along the High Street swinging them around their heads watched by thousands of people. How cool is that?
The New Year is the most important holiday in Japan, as it is a symbol of renewal. In December Bonenkai or ‘forget-the-year’ parties are held to leave behind the problems and concerns of the past year and prepare for a new beginning. At midnight on New Year’s Eve Buddhist temples strike their gongs 108 times to expel 108 types of human weakness, while New Year’s Day itself is a public holiday when children receive otoshidamas – small gifts with money inside. And if New Year cards are postmarked by a certain date, the Japanese post office guarantees delivery on January 1st.
One famous American tradition is the dropping of the New Year Ball in Times Square, New York City. This first began in 1907 – at 11:59 P.M. thousands gather to watch the ball make its one-minute descent, arriving in the square exactly at midnight. The original ball was made of iron and wood; the current ball is made of Waterford Crystal, weighs 1,070 pounds and is six feet in diameter. Meanwhile in the Southern States the traditional New Year’s dish is Hoppin’ John – black eyed peas and ham hocks. As the old saying goes, ‘eat peas on New Year’s day to have plenty of everything the rest of the year’.
Elsewhere in The World the Spanish eat twelve grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve, which is meant to ensure twelve happy months in the coming year. The Dutch burn bonfires of Christmas trees on the street and set off fireworks to purge the old and welcome in the new, while in Greece New Year’s Day is also the Festival of St. Basil, one of the founders of the Greek Orthodox Church. The traditional food is Vassilopitta or St Basil’s cake; there’s a silver or gold coin inside the cake and it’s said that whoever finds the coin will be lucky during the coming year.
Have you made any New Year Resolutions? It’s thought that the idea of making them goes all the way back to the ancient Babylonians who would make promises to their Gods at the start of the year. The Romans would take similar vows to Janus, after whom the month of January was named. And in the Medieval era knights took the ‘Peacock Vow’ at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to The Chivalric Code, while the early Christians believed the first day of the New Year should be spent reflecting on past mistakes and resolving to improve. But how many people keep their resolutions? A 2007 study by Richard Wisemen at Bristol University involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail despite the fact that over half of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try!
In the meantime it’s a happy new year to all of you out there from all of us here at Balcony Shirts – stay tuned for more blogging, some of which might even relate to retro-styled t-shirts. Hurrah!