Like most of you reading this, my New Year’s Eve usually turns out being spent in a corner at some party where I only know three people while maintaining a certain level of comfort by nuzzling some libation as if it were a newborn cub. But alas, besides getting hammered and then finding out the next day that you made out with your best friend’s cousin (you know, the one with that mole!), there apparently is a whole slew of New Year’s traditions that exists around the world that are probably way more interesting than yours.
So, take a second here, put down that glass of sparkling what-ever-the-hell-you’re-drinking and pay attention. This just might be on the quiz!
First Footing (Scotland, Northern England)
We have co-opted many a tradition from our Irish and Scottish brethren, however this one still seems to be widely unknown. The practice of “First Foot” takes place after the strike of midnight on New Year’s. Traditionally, the first-footer is expected to be a tall dude with dark hair. Unfortunately for you fair hared guys and ladies, you are regarded as unlucky (rules…hmmph!).
So, this tall dude that is now in your house at the middle of the night should be bearing gifts. Usually, it’s customary to bring a combination of items including the likes of possibly a coin, bread, salt, coal and a libation (whiskey…obviously). This assortment of goodies is to represent (in order) financial prosperity, food, flavor, warmth and good cheer.
Lucky Pig (Germany)
Mmmm pork. My Jewish half is telling me to back away but my German half is salivating something fierce! In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the image of a white pig became prevalent in lucky charms throughout Germany. The concept here of a “pig in clover”, an image that also became common, signifies financial prosperity and well being. Basically, the concept arose from simple agricultural realities. Pigs can live on farm waste and residues, while breeding a ton and feeding families for a long time.
I suppose this makes sense since bacon tastes good. Pork chops taste good. But besides the deliciousness of this tubby animal, pigs are viewed as good luck charms in Germany. It is common for marzipan pigs to be given as gifts around Christmas and New Year’s as they represent good luck And let’s not forget, on New Year’s Eve, people in Germany eat a shit ton of the animal.
Interesting tidbit: No chicken is eaten in Germany on New Year’s due to the belief that if consumed, the bird will fly away with your happiness and good luck for the year.
Polar Bear Swim (Canada, Netherlands)
Okay, let me get this straight…on New Year’s Day a bunch of Canadians get together and decide to jump into frigid waters just for the sake of it? And this is now a New Year’s tradition? Sure, I don’t get it. But sure…
The New Year’s Day Polar Bear Swim got its start in 1920 when a man by the name of Peter Pantages organized The Vancouver Polar Bear Swim Club. At that time, the club was made up of 10 people. This was where the tradition of jumping into The English Bay on New Year’s Day began. Since then, this tradition has grown and now it is common to see large groups of crazy people in costumes go for a nice little jaunt in freezing cold waters to ring in the New Year. This practice is also common in The Netherlands. This practice is also crazy.
Molten Tin (Finland)
In Finland, it’s an old tradition to predict the coming year’s events by throwing molten metal into a container of water. No, seriously. You just throw a lava hot piece of tin into a pot of water and then interpret the shape that piece of metal takes as it cools and hardens. A ring or heart signifies a wedding in the coming year, a ship (we talking boats or we talking The Millenium Falcon here?) forecasts travel in the near future. And, much like German culture, where this practice also occurs, a pig shape will signify plenty of food.
So with this logic, you tell me, what does the metal in the above picture look like? A banshee? A baby goblin arm? A turkey head in a vice grip? Yeah…I got nothing.
Christmas Tree Bonfires (Netherlands)
In the Netherlands, when people are finished swimming around in ice cold waters, people burn Christmas trees on the street. Yeah! I’m not one for swimming in freezing lakes of cold coldness, but setting fire to shit? That’s a different story! It’s a common practice to set bonfires of old Christmas trees while also holding firework displays to welcome in the New Year. Not only does this sound cool to look at and take part in for aesthetics purposes, this tradition is also considered to be a way of driving off the spirits of the old year.
Many cultures, including The Dutch, believe that anything in the shape of a circle or ring symbolizes good luck because of the whole “coming full circle” thing. So, what better way to cap off the mass bonfires and firework displays, then by eating donuts on New Year’s Day? Damn, Netherlands. You had me at fire and donuts!
12 Grapes (Spain & Mexico)
What seems common at most New Year’s Eve gatherings would be a few glasses of wine, per say. But not in Spain. No, there they get a bit more specific. How specific? What about 12 grapes in a glass? At the strike of midnight on New Year’s Eve, it is customary in Spain to suck down 12 whole grapes. More specifically, these grapes need to be eaten quickly and each one must be downed at each stroke of the clock. The meaning here is that each grape is to signify good luck for the coming year.
You know what would make this more interesting? Replacing each grape with a glass of wine and then downing each drink at the appropriate times instead. Yeah, that’s right! You have been challenged!
Throwing Dishes (Denmark)
Now this is a tradition I can get behind! In Denmark, it is customary for people to throw their dishes at their neighbor’s door. That sounds a bit amazing, if you ask me. Everyone may not have the disrespectful dirty neighbors I have the luck of living next door too. The idea of throwing dishes at their door thrills me to no end. However, there is the whole cleaning up detail I’d prefer to avoid.
The twist here is, the larger the pile of broken dishes and glasses, the better. What this boils down to is, the bigger the pile = the more friends one has. I’m not really sure how that logic works. I’ll tell you one thing, though. If I was the one throwing the dishes, I better have a back up set. I’d never be able to live that one down…
Red & Yellow Undies (Central & South America)
In countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, it is considered a sign of luck to wear special underwear on New Year’s Eve. It is common to see street vendors displaying bright under garments a few days in advance of the holiday, the most popular colors being red to signify love in the coming year and yellow to signify money.
I’m curious why green doesn’t signify money. If you ask me, I’d go red. Wearing underwear the color of urine just doesn’t seem right to me. Like it’d just send a subconscious signal to my brain telling me it’s alright to wet myself.
Effigies Of Famous People (Panama)
The tradition in Panama is to burn effigies of celebrities, fictional characters and political figures; Pretty much anyone well known, really. Known as muñecos, these effigies can be anyone from Michael Jackson to Walter White. The significance of these effigies being set ablaze is that they represent the old year that is coming to an end. Burning them is meant to send off the evil spirits for the fresh New Year to commence.
I’m not too aware of where these evil spirits come from but hey, I like setting fire to stuff just as much as the next guy! So when I’m done with my Christmas tree bonfire, I’ma burn a muñeco!
Note to self: acquire a muñeco.
Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year is the most popular of the Chinese holidays and lasts fifteen days. Firecrackers and noisemakers are used to chase away evil spirits. The dragon and lion will dance in the streets during the famous parades that happen in China and throughout China Towns across the country. People will don red clothing and hand out red envelopes with lucky money to children. Also, in the name of luck, pairs of tangerines are often given out. I say pairs, because odd numbers are deemed unlucky. The event is capped off by a beautiful lantern festival.
What stands out for me, though is what happens on the tenth day. It is then that the mice marry off their daughters. Mice are viewed as harmful creatures in Chinese folklore so on this night, people will go to bed early and avoid opening cupboards as not to disturb the mice. Then, these mice will marry off their daughters to ensure peace and luck for the coming year.
Is no one else concerned for the people living with mice in their cupboards beside me?
Well this concludes tonight’s lesson. Now, instead of going to the same old party with the same old plan to drink in the corner, maybe you’ll be inspired to bring the host a gift of coal. Then, while everyone gathers around the television to watch the ball drop, toss the serving platter at that one neighbor (you know, the one with that mole!). Your friends will greet you with open arms, for you have introduced excitement and culture to the party! They will toast you with glasses filled with grapes and strip down to their red and yellow underwear to dance in celebration of your greatness. And while everyone is cheering and yelling, “Happy New Year”, the crowd will beg you to set fire to the Christmas tree!
Thusly, this chain of events will begin a new yearly tradition that will most certainly mark you as a hero for the coming year.
I mean, Hell, you might want to bring a cape just in case.
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