In Denmark, the New Year may be marked by breaking dishes on friends’ doorways. In Swaziland, tradition has it that people celebrate a long harvest season and bring their king back into the community from a brief seclusion.
Japanese families may celebrate the New Year for two weeks of “firsts” including “first writing”, in which family members inscribe favorite poems or sayings with fresh ink. In the Philippines, wearing polka dots and eating round fruit is said to attract prosperity and luck.
Traditional Hmong people, pictured above, thoroughly clean their houses and place the dirt outside near a loop of rope that has been tied to a tree. Children jump in an out of a loop to confuse the dirt spirits. The Dutch, pictured below, make doughnuts, called oliebols, which are only eaten at the New Year, have great firework shows, and often celebrate the day as many seaside dwellers do, by running into the sometimes freezing water — here, with the New Years Dive. at Scheveningen, in Amsterdam.
All over the world, people celebrate the New Year — often at the turning of the Julian calendar on January 1, but sometimes not — and do so with a wide variety of traditions, celebrations and rituals.
This is a wonderful list of New Years celebrations from around the world. Many traditions have to do with driving away evil spirits and ringing in the new.
The New Year used to coincide with Spring (which makes sense in agrarian societies and perhaps even today), until Julius Caesar’s Julian calendar was created in 46 B.C. and declared the New Year to begin January 1. Many Europeans held firm to their Spring celebrations all the way until the 1560s, when France’s King Charles IX finally decreed that the year should officially begin on January 1. It still took Pope Gregory in Rome a full 18 years to follow suit, and some Europeans even longer. Those who continued to celebrate the New Year in April were considered fools — yes, April Fools.
More New Year Traditions
Do you make resolutions? Irresistible to those of us who like an occasional “fresh start”, New Years resolutions are said to go back 4,000 years, all the way to ancient Babylonia. Because the New Year occurred at the Vernal Equinox, many Babylonians resolved to make good on their word and return borrowed farm equipment, so their neighbors could begin the new year of farming.
How about Auld Lang Syne? If you sing Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve, you’re like much of the English-speaking world, who brings out this maudlin Scottish tune each new year at the stroke of midnight. “Auld Lang Syne” means “old long ago” or the “good old days”. The song as we know it was penned in the 1700s from an older traditional tune.
Then, there’s the New Years Baby. This symbolism is said to go back to ancient Greece, where parading a baby in a basket represented the rebirth of Dionysus, the God of Wine and symbol of fertility.
From ancient times, the New Year has been an occasion for contemplation and celebration. Happy and Healthy New Year to you and yours. Please let me know if you wear polka dots, break dishes, run into the ocean, or enjoy another or your own New Year tradition.
Images: PTD Phonsavan, Lybil BER, J.C. Leyendecker, Michael Lipman
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