It’s that time again…the stockings, once hung by the chimney with care, now lie discarded on the heap of shredded paper and ribbon. The lights that once illuminated the tree with a rainbow of colors are now tossed aside into a box, or bag, their green tendrils becoming more and more entwined, like some cruel Christmas joke waiting for next year to be sprung. Leftovers fill the fridge, cookies burst forth from their bins, complimenting my holiday belly that is threatening to overtake my belt. The brightly colored bulbs and baubles that adorned the tree now lie quiet and subdued in their box. Christmas, thankfully, is over.
Now its time for the last hurrah of the year, the final holiday…new year’s eve. The time when everyone looks back on their accomplishments, and failures, of the previous year. And a time to make the promise, to yourself, that next year will be even better. Maybe you’ll quit smoking, lose weight, go to the gym…whatever it is. Those little promises we make to ourselves once a year and NEVER keep. I am no different. I’ve told myself for years now that I would quit smoking; I have yet to quit. Seems an odd tradition to me to make those strange little promises to ourselves, and I wondered where that started (f.y.i The practice of making New Year’s resolutions, said to have begun with the Babylonians as early as 2600 B.C., is another way to reflect on the past and plan ahead.) but no more odd than others.
In Scotland, the custom of first-footing is an important part of the celebration of Hogmanay, or New Year’s Eve Day. After midnight, family and friends visit each other’s home. The “first foot” to cross a threshold after midnight will predict the next year’s fortune. Although the tradition varies, those deemed especially fortunate as “first footers” are new brides, new mothers, those who are tall and dark (and handsome?) or anyone born on January 1. In Swiss homes, dollops of whipped cream, symbolizing the richness of the year to come, are dropped on the floors—and allowed to remain there.
Who doesn’t want to know what the next year might bring? I know it would certainly make things so much easier for us all, right? Well, in Germany, people melt small pieces of lead in a spoon over a candle, then pour the liquid into cold water. The bizarre shapes from the Bleigießen (lead pouring) are supposed to reveal what the year ahead will bring. If the lead forms a ball, luck will roll one’s way, while the shape of a crown means wealth; a cross signifies death and a star will bring happiness.
In Ecuador, people build scarecrow-like dolls of politicians, pop stars, or other notable figures to set them alight. Burning the año viejo (old year) is meant to destroy all the bad things from the last year and cleanse for the new. The scarecrows are made from old clothes stuffed with newspaper or sawdust and a mask is fitted at the end. The Ecuadorian tradition possibly originated in Guayaquil in 1895 when a yellow fever epidemic hit the town, and coffins packed with clothes of the deceased were burnt for purification.
Romania is a country steeped in tradition. Especially in rural areas. New Year’s Eve highlights include mask dances and ceremonies about death and rebirth. Dancers dress up in furs and wooden masks depicting goats, horses, or bears, then dance from house to house to ward off evil spirits. The dance of the bear is the most popular. According to pre-Christian folklore, if a bear enters somebody’s house, it brings prosperity, health, and good fortune.
A Danish New Year’s Eve tradition is to throw plates and dishes against friend’s and neighbor’s front doors. It’s a bit of a popularity contest as the bigger the pile of broken china is the next morning, the more friends and good luck you’ll have in the coming year. In times of apartment and urban living though, it’s a dying tradition, but smashing fun for those who still practice it. Another custom in Denmark is the jumping off chairs at midnight, symbolizing the leap into the New Year when the clock strikes 12. I personally may have leapt a chair or two in my younger days.
At midnight, Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their bells 108 times to dispel the 108 evil passions all human beings have, according to Buddhism. Japanese believe that joyanokane, the ringing of the bells, will cleanse them from their sins of the previous year. Traditionally, 107 bells are rung on the last day of the year and the 108th in the new year.
However one celebrates it, in whatever country and partaking in whatever mischief your traditions entail, this is a time to reflect on the year behind, and plan and hope for the year ahead. So from me to you, from my home to yours…here’s wishing everyone a wonderful 2018.