Ringing in the New Year Around the World
In the United States, celebrating the new year is a joyous and dazzling occasion. We get together with friends and family, look back on everything that happened in the past year, and celebrate everything that is to come in the new one. It is a time of hope, new beginnings, and of course champagne! No New Year’s Eve party would be complete without activities such as watching the ball drop in Times Square, a time-honored tradition since 1907, and sharing a New Year’s kiss with a special someone at midnight. But the U.S. isn’t the only country with special traditions to help ring in the New Year.
All around the world, different cultures have unique customs to kick off the year and today we’re taking a look at some of our favorites:
China: The Chinese Lunar New Year is a feast for the senses. Also known as the Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year has been celebrated in China for centuries as well as other countries, including Thailand, Indonesia, and Taiwan. Celebrations can last 10-15 days and though traditions tend to vary, common customs include the Lion Dance, which is performed by dancers in a large lion costume to ward off bad spirits, feasting with relatives, lighting firecrackers, and exchanging money (Lai See) in red envelopes for luck. The actual date is different from year to year but it always takes place on the first day of the lunar calendar. It can fall anywhere from the end of January to mid-February and the next Chinese New Year’s Day will take place on February 8th, 2016.
Germany: Like many other countries, a big focus for German New Year’s traditions is luck. Every year, it is customary to take a small amount of lead and melt it in a tablespoon before pouring it into a small bowl or bucket of cold water to solidify. Whatever shape it takes is supposed to predict what will come in the New Year. If it is round, you will have good luck, if it is in the shape of a heart that means marriage, but other shapes like crosses or anchors suggest more ominous fortunes.
Peru: While the Germans use lead to predict their futures, the Peruvians use potatoes. That’s right, potatoes! Three are placed under a family’s sofa or chair: one peeled, one unpeeled, and one half-peeled. At midnight, one is chosen at random and whichever one is pulled reveals how well you will do financially in the next year. The unpeeled potato signifies wealth, the half-peeled signifies no change, and the unpeeled signifies no money.
Israel: Though the holiday is observed in many countries all around the world, nothing can quite compare to Rosh Hashanah in Israel. The Jewish New Year takes place on the first and second day of the seventh month (Tishri) of the Jewish calendar and usually falls around September. In Israel it is believed that Rosh Hashanah is too important to be celebrated in just one day, hence the celebration continues for two. According to the Torah, it is a time of shouting and rejoicing and no one is to do any work except for the cooking of meals. Many symbolic foods are eaten during Rosh Hashanah, such as apples and honey to usher in a sweet New Year and fish heads which symbolize the prayer “let us be the head and not the tail.”
Russia: Similar to how Americans make resolutions, in Russia it is a tradition to write down your wish for the New Year on a piece of paper and then burn it. Afterward, the ashes are collected from your wish and put into a glass of champagne. It is believed that drinking the champagne before the New Year is officially rung in, will make your wish will come true.
Denmark: In Denmark, people prepare for New Year’s Day by saving old plates. When it comes time to celebrate, people will throw the plates against the doors of their friends as a symbol of brotherhood. The more broken plates outside your door, the more friends you will have in the New Year. Another Danish tradition includes standing on chairs and jumping from them when the clock strikes midnight.
Spain: In Spain, the New Year’s Eve tradition has become something of a friendly competition. To bring good luck in the New Year, the custom is to eat 12 grapes just before the clock strikes midnight. Many people have taken to competing with friends and family to see who can eat the grapes the fastest.
Indonesia: Many families in Indonesia celebrate Muharram, which is the Islamic New Year. Much like the Chinese Lunar New Year, the Islamic calendar is a lunar one and Muharram is also the name of the first month of this calendar. This also means that, like the Chinese New Year, it always falls on different dates. In 2016 Muharram will begin October 1st and end October 31st. The traditions and customs vary depending on denomination, but usually around the 10th day of the month there is a fasting to mourn and honor the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Husayn ibn Ali.