Ringing in the New Year - Part One
How did you spend your New Year’s Eve?
My hometown has a spectacular party-like atmosphere on the waterfront every New Year’s Eve with amazing fireworks at 9pm for children and midnight for everyone else, so if we are at home for New Year’s we always spend the evening on the Foreshore. If we are away from home (often in a caravan park), we’d sit outside on the lawn and relax with a picnic-style feel, in the hope that our caravan and tenting neighbours would do the same.
A friend of mine lives in the United States, and he told me that during his childhood the New Year’s was brought in in two very specific ways. One was shared by a lot of other people in the neighbourhood: They’d gather on the porch at midnight with pots and pans and bang them together, shouting ‘Happy New Year!’ He said that this was, as you might imagine, a lot of fun for a young boy standing in his Spider Man pyjamas, way past his bed time, allowed for one time only to be as loud and obnoxious at night as he naturally wanted to be.
The other tradition was more specific to my friend’s family, they would each eat a piece of pickled herring for luck. He was not then and nor is he now a fan of pickled herring, but every December his mother would return from shopping one day with a small jar of the stuff, and at midnight they’d all take a piece and eat it for luck.
Traditions around the World
What I love about New Year’s is that it is one of the few universal holidays celebrated all over the world. Secular and practical, the New Year is simply a moment where everyone in the world pauses to celebrate what they’ve been through and what they hope is coming. It’s a wonderful sentiment in a world that is often far too divided.
In Scotland, I particularly like the tradition of Hogmanay, or ‘first footing’. After midnight, neighbours visit with each other and bring small gifts or tokens of good luck, and it is considered lucky to have certain people be the first to cross your threshold in the New Year. In a world increasingly divided and isolated by technology, I love a tradition that encourages the old-school joy of ‘visiting’.
Another tradition I adore comes from Japan, where the New Year’s celebration is one of the most important holidays all year. Starting in December, the Japanese start hosting Bonenkai or ‘forget-the-year parties’ where everyone is encouraged to put aside any tragedy or pain they’ve experienced and enter the New Year with a clear head and heart. This is such a wonderful concept that I’ve been mulling throwing my own ‘Forget the Year’ party. Maybe this is my year!
Purging the Old
A similar – but better, because it involves fire – tradition exists in The Netherlands, where every New Year’s Eve old Christmas trees are burned on bonfires to purge the old year, and then fireworks are set off to ring in the new. I love this energetic response to the passage of time.
There are as many New Year’s Eve traditions as there are people – these are just a few I’ve encountered in my document translation adventures.