What do you usually do at the last day of the year? Traditionally people sum up everything that happened during this period, analyze their triumphs and hard times, do the last-minute preparations for the New Year coming, and follow New Year traditions. The New Year tree is standing right at the center of the hall with a heap of presents under it. Mouthwatering smells of holiday food are floating from the kitchen. Laid table is waiting for the guests.
A well-known fuss, isn’t it? However, there is something fun and cheerful in this mess, something we were looking forward to with greatest pleasure and curiosity. The New Year is always associated with the new dawn, with the new day, with the new, better life. So, there is no wonder that people are ready to do the craziest things to lure good luck into their private and professional life.
What do you personally do to be a success next year? Have you got any special family New Year traditions or superstitions? Are you ready to share them with us or they work only when you keep them in secret?
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But that’s not all, far from it! Here is a list of New Year traditions and superstitions from different countries. Some of them will seem weird to you, some of them will make you smile and maybe some of these New Year traditions around the world will bring you luck in 2021. We sincerely hope they will!
- In Pittsburgh and many other cold northern cities in the U.S. near rivers or other bodies of water, human “polar bears” strip down and jump into the water on New Year’s Day, usually to raise money for charity.
- Making lots of noise at midnight to scare off evil spirits. This is the same reason bells are rung at weddings.
- Opening every door and window to let all of last year’s bad luck out.
- Not doing laundry because you’ll “make” someone die, e.g. by washing them out of your life.
- Trying to get a tall, dark-haired man bringing a gift to be your “first-footer,” or first person entering your house after midnight. He’s the luckiest omen. A female blonde or redhead first-footer is the worst.
- In Spain people eat Twelve Grapes, and this is not a New Year tradition of a few but of an overwhelming majority. That’s peculiar enough, but also they (ideally) have to be perfectly coordinated with the chimes of the clock in Madrid’s “Puerta del Sol” that are transmitted live by virtually all TV and Radio networks. Also, the “Puerta del Sol” Plaza itself is packed with people that eat the grapes on the spot. Families and groups of friends gather to “eat the grapes” together. There has surely been an important dinner before “the grapes” that is over by midnight – but there will be trays with plenty of “turrón” and other Christmas sweets available. Immediately after the grapes are eaten Champagne bottles are opened (in Spain Cava is the rule, not Champagne), and kisses, hugs and good wishes are exchanged. Telephone networks are usually busy for the following minutes, as it is customary to greet your close relatives and friends as soon as possible after “the grapes”. They are part of the Spanish language. When something takes very long, it is common to say “aquí nos van a dar las uvas” (“we are going to eat the grapes here”). There is a special grape harvest in mid-December to cater for the demand of New-Year’s Eve grapes.
- There is a New Year tradition on Goa to burn an old man. It’s not a real Old Man, but an effigy of an Old Man. The burning of the Old Man happens every year on December 31. Village boys make an old man by stuffing old clothes with hay and set up roadblocks as people ask for monetary help for their ailing Old Man. Each village has almost 4-5 effigies in different places with youngsters narrating the writhing laments of the “Old Man”, his anguish, his pain, his sufferings, his joys, his sorrows, all of which were encountered by him in the past year. The Old Man is then customarily burnt at midnight and the money collected is used for a New Year’s party.
Followed almost universally by all:
- Clean the house before New Year if you don’t want to wash away your fortunes.
- No cutting hair, fingernails or other things during the first few days. Washing hair on the first day is also not a good idea.
- Avoid talking about death or ghosts.
- No gifting of sharp objects, clocks, shoes, pears, umbrellas or other taboo gifts. Most of these objects form puns in Chinese language with inauspicious words such as separating or dying or their associated rituals.
- Gifting of oranges, candies, money (in red envelopes) in even numbers and preferably incorporating the number 8 which is considered lucky. However never gift things in quantities of 4 since 4 sounds like the character for death.
- Avoid wearing white (which relates to death) during festivities. Wearing colorful clothes, especially red, is encouraged.
Regional New Year Traditions
- Eat vegetarian on the first day. Killing animals on this day will affect your own longevity.
- No use of knives on the first day. Cut your vegetables the day before and store them.
- No buying of books during the festival. Books sound like the Chinese word for “lose”.
- No throwing of garbage from day 1 to day 4. It would signify throwing away your fortune as well. Garbage can be thrown away starting from the 5th day. Until then, any garbage must be put in a corner, not thrown away. Best, reuse/recycle/reduce your use of anything that could become garbage during these days.
- Likewise, no sweeping of floors from day 1 to day 4. You should have done that before day 1.
- Days 3-4 are not good days to visit friends.
- One legend says that hanging lanterns and exploding firecrackers on day 15 is actually of superstitious origin – to make Jade Emperor, who is angry at this time and wants to set the Earth on fire, think that the Earth is already on fire so he can be satisfied and not actually make up his mind.
- Another legend says that there are 12 (60 depending on context) generals appointed by the heavens that take turns governing the mortal world each year. Those whose astrological sign matches the current year may offend the Taisui of the current year (for example, if you’re a rabbit and this is a rabbit year) and should be extra cautious this year. It’s also a good idea to wear this small icon all year for safety, and go (or have friends go) and try to comfort Taisui at the beginning of the year to keep you safe.
- Chinese culture likes puns. Non-vegetarians especially in Southeast Asia may focus on eating fish at some point because 餘 (abundance) is pronounced like 魚 (fish); 年年有魚 (Every year has fish) sounds like 年年有餘 (May every year be abundant).
Here are the practices by Chinese in Singapore/Malaysia:
- Spring cleaning. Clean the whole house before CNY. Water wash corridor of the main door during the CNY’s eve. When your house is spanking clean, the God of Fortune will grace it and bring you money all year round.
- Wear brand new clothes including shoes and underwear during CNY. At least for the first 2 days. You can also change the toothbrushes and towels, change bed sheets, etc. The idea is to have “new” things around you. Dirty laundry also needs to be washed before New Year.
- Hang something red on doors and walls. Buy pots of flowers to decorate the house.
- On CNY eve family members gather for a dinner. Children and their descendent gather at parents’ house if parents are still around. Married daughters are not at the reunion dinner, they follow their husbands.
- Don’t go to sleep too early during CNY eve. The house cannot be too quite.
- It is bad omen to break vase, bowl, glass utensil etc. during CNY. When such incident happens, you shout out 落地开花 to clear away the omen. 落地开花 means what’s dropped to the floor – blossoms like flower.
- The first day of CNY is spent at home, people also visit temples. It is forbidden for married daughters and their families to visit you during first day. Most people do not mind such nowadays.
- Day 2 is dedicated to married daughters and their families visits. You can also visit relatives and friends on day 2.
- If you are married, you give red packets/ang pao/红包 to your kids and kids of family members, relatives and friends who are not married yet and are younger than you. For example if you are married and your elder brother is not married, you do not give him the ang pao. Put money inside and do not put in odd number amount. It is also common for bosses to give red packets to staff during CNY.
- Visit relatives and friends during CNY. In Singapore/Malaysia, you just need to bring 2 mandarin oranges when you visit. In return, you will receive 2 mandarin oranges back.
- Two most common greetings in CNY are: 新年快乐 (Happy New Year) and 恭喜发财 (Wish you good fortune).
- Prepare CNY cookies, sweets and drinks to treat your visiting friends/relatives. The more variety the better. In Singapore/Malaysia, Bak Kuah/sweet pork jerky/ 肉干 is commonly served.
- For the office: bring 2 mandarin oranges the first day you come to work on CNY, knock at your boss’s office, wish him/her happy New Year, give the oranges and demand the red packet from your boss.
- People of Hokkien dialect group (ancestors from Fujian), celebrate CNY on Day 9. There was a war in ancient times in Fujian during the CNY and people saved themselves hiding in sugar cane plantation. They were able to celebrate New Year only on Day 9. In Singapore/Malaysia you can see people buying sugarcanes for praying during Day 9 of CNY.
- Light and fun gambling is common with family members/friends during CNY. Don’t be surprised if you find stuff gathered during lunch time to gamble during CNY.
- Day 15 is the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s.
- Serve fish on the day of the New Year, but leave most of it uneaten. “Fish” in Mandarin is pronounced the same way as the character for “abundance”. By eating only part of the fish, you are left with abundance for the rest of year.
The Unusual New Year Traditions Practiced By Different Countries
It is always exciting to learn new facts about the culture of other countries. It enriches your mind, inspires, and brings new ideas to your usual celebration. Some points are full of national consciousness, created by traditions and maintained by people for thousands of years!
It is not a secret that it is tough to find a snow piece in December and January. At this time in this country, the summer season is in full swing. That is why you will not meet the familiar Santa here – in a fur coat, a hat, and a beard. Here he gracefully swims out on a specially decorated surf from Sydney’s shores, in swimming trunks and with staff.
This evening the Australians go for a walk around the city, waiting for the New Year’s fireworks, which are traditionally gorgeous and striking in its beauty. Simultaneously, locals do not party all night, since this is not customary, and go home immediately after midnight. Therefore, in bars after 1 AM, you can meet only tourists.
In this country, on the last working day of the year, it is customary to throw the old calendar out of the windows of your workplace. Besides, all the old forms, drawings, and even documentation fly after them. And rightly so, why hold on to the past, because there is a new year ahead with its new concerns!
In Greece, there is a custom according to which, precisely at midnight, the head of the family goes out into the courtyard and breaks a pomegranate fruit against the wall. If his grains scatter around the yard, the family will live happily in the new year. When they visit their relatives, the Greeks bring a mossy stone with them as a gift and leave it in the owners’ room. They say: “Let the owners’ money be as heavy as this stone.”
A bizarre mixture of Indian and African rituals with European flavor turned the Brazilian New Year into a routine of unbridled carnival and traditional worship of the ancient gods. While on Copacabana Beach, almost a million spectators watch the magical transformations of lights flying into the sky from specially installed rafts in the sea. In Laguna de Freitas, the world’s tallest floating tree, which is 82 m high, is illuminated with fireworks against the background of the equally famous statue of Christ. The Redeemer stretched out his hands to bless the magnificent city. Besides, on New Year’s Eve in Brazil, thousands of candles light up on the sand on the ocean beach. Women in long dresses step into the water and throw flower petals into the ocean waves.
There are beautiful rituals for the New Year in India. The people of northern India adorn themselves with white, pink, red, and purple flowers. In central India, buildings are decorated with colorful, mostly orange flags. In western India, small lights are lit on the rooftops. Hindus have their own rule of giving gifts. For example, they place gifts for children on a special tray. In the morning, parents close the children’s eyes and bring them to this tray, so they will surprisingly find the presents.
People believe that there simply cannot be a holiday without shooting, fireworks, and explosions in Colombia. Colombians make dolls depicting the old year. They carry them on sticks and read funny wills. Then, they throw the dolls away from themselves, and at midnight, the charges, gunpowder, hidden in the dolls begin to explode. The old year, surrounded by fire and smoke, scatters, making way for the New Year.
In Norway, children expect gifts from a goat. Locals greet it with holiday treats – dry ears of oats put into children’s shoes for the New Year. In the morning, instead of ears of corn, the children find New Year’s gifts in their boots and shoes. In this country, the goat is given a privileged position. The fact is that a local legend tells that the Norwegian king Olaf II once saved a wounded goat by removing it from a cliff. The animal was taken to the palace, cured, and released. As a token of gratitude, she brought rare healing plants to the savior every night.
In Norway, it is customary not to forget our little ones: before going to bed on New Year’s Eve, the kids hang a trough full of wheat grains outside the window and put a bowl of oatmeal in a manger for a horse or foal so that the gnome who comes with gifts – nisse – can also reinforce your strength.
2020 year is ending, 2021 is beginning, a year of loss and finding … and all of you were with us through the storm. So, we drink your health, your wealth, your fortune for long years to come, and hope for many more days in which we can meet here like this.
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