Happy New Year!

New Year Traditions From Around The World

New Year traditions mark the turning of another year. As we just celebrated the turn of another year, I thought it would be a good time to look at several traditions associated with this time.

We know that time is relative, and the dates somewhat arbitrary. However, all societies feel the need to break down time, and celebrate the beginning of a new period. Most, but not all, cultures celebrate the beginning of a new year on January 1st. Because of his, many celebrations are part of the longer winter holiday traditions.

Many cultures look at New Year’s Day as a time for renewal and an opportunity to attract good luck. That’s why they spend time making sure their year starts off right; they engage in rituals and activities designed to bring luck.

Here is a look at several New Year traditions designed to bring a prosperous, happy, and lucky new year.

Hungary and Hungarian-Speaking Regions: The Ancient Tradition of Regölés, Noise And Food For Luck In The New Year

The ancient custom of regölés is meant to wish good luck in the new year. The nature-centered regös songs originated from the ancient Hungarian shaman’s magic spell, bringing good will and abundance. Meant for the new year, the custom is still part of the winter celebrations in Hungarian communities. Starting around Christmas, groups of young men perform the regös songs, walking from house to house. Though the words changed over the centuries, the idea stayed the same. The songs are meant to wish good luck, abundance, and good crops to the households in the coming new year.

Besides the regös songs, people in old Hungarian communities say goodbye to the Old Year, called Óév, with lots of noise, to keep away harmful forces. One of the variations, ringing the bells at midnight on New Year’s Eve, is still a custom all over Hungary.

But even more important than the noise and ancient songs, is the food on New Year’s Eve. Hungarians keep the dinner table full of food at midnight. They also leave some of the food unfinished, to make sure they never go hungry in the New Year.

Traditionally, a roasted piglet is the meal of choice for good luck at this time. Since piglets like to dig they symbolize digging out good luck and pushing it into the house.

Eating lentils is also good choice for the New Year’s Eve meal. Eaten in soups or stews, they symbolize money, and ensure good fortune for the new year.

The Hungarian rétes, a strudel-like pastry, brings happiness in the New Year. Made by stretching the dough, folding it and stretching it over and over, making rétes is a lengthy process. According to superstition, the more you stretch the rétes, the longer your luck will hold during the new year. The filling is also important: the more filling you put in it, the more happiness your new year will bring.

Romania: Masked Dancers Chase Away Evil Spirits Of The Old Year

Romanian New Year traditions are rooted in agrarian beliefs. Dating back to pre-Christian times, they are still alive in remote villages in the countryside.

Groups of children start the celebrations start in the morning of New Year’s Eve. Carrying bells and whips for noise making, they go from house to house performing “Plugusorul” (the little plow). They sing or recite traditional lyrics wishing the hosts health and rich crops for the year to come.

Later in the day, groups of teenagers and adults, walk house to house, with a similar quest. Dressed in traditional clothes, they perform “Plugul” (the big plow), while playing drums, violins or guitars. Originally, they used to pull along a real plow with horses or bulls.

But the most exciting and colorful Romanian New Year traditions are the masked dances. People dress up as bears, horses, goats or fictional characters, and perform traditional dances. A magical ceremony of death and rebirth, of endings and new beginnings, the dances tell a story. Most of these stories revolve around an animal dying and brought back to life by magic. The different variations all symbolize the death of the old year and beginning of a new one. The ritual is also supposed to purify and fertilize the soil for the following year’s crops.

Accompanied by loud drum beats, shouts, cow bells and people cracking long leather whips, the dances are meant to get noisy, to scare away the evil spirits of the year passed.

Scotland: First Footers Bring Good Luck Into The Household

In Scotland, it is important to start the New Year with a clean sheet. For this, they clean the house and clear all bills before the new year arrives. But even more important is the tradition of Hogmanay, or first footing.

Since ancient times, households across Scotland welcomed strangers through their doors, believing they would bring good fortune for the year ahead. First footing is still practiced today. However, it is also important who the first footer is. While some individuals can bring good luck for the upcoming 12 months, others might bring the opposite.

Traditionally, the first footer should be someone who is not already in the house when midnight struck. From here originates the Scottish party tradition of having one guest walk out just before the bells ring. hen, as soon as the new year begins, they knock and (re-)enter the house.

But it is a very specific requirement for this guest to be a dark-haired male. Light-haired men, redheads, or women should never be first-footers, since they would be precursors of bad luck. This tradition goes back to the time of the Viking invasions, when the last thing people wanted to see was a light-haired man at he door. So, the opposite, a dark-haired man, symbolizes luck and success.

First footers bring symbolic gifts of bread, salt, coal, and whisky. These gifts represent the things they wish the new year would bring: food, flavor, warmth, and good cheer.

Spain and Latin America: Eating 12 Grapes Brings Good Luck

In Spain, people eat 12 grapes at the strike of midnight, to being good luck in the coming year. This tradition is relatively new, started in the late 19th century. Vine growers in the Alicante area came up with this tradition as a means of selling more grapes toward the end of the year.

However, the celebration caught on and continues today, since grapes symbolize good fortune. Today, people in Spain eat one grape for each of the 12 bell strikes after midnight, hoping that this will bring about a year of good fortune and prosperity in he new year.

The tradition became so popular, it is celebrated in most Latin American countries, including Mexico. However, it is not as easy as it sounds. You need to eat all 12 grapes within one minute, while the clock strikes midnight. The 12 grapes represent wishes for the 12 months of the year. If you manage to eat them all within the minute, all those wishes will come true in the New Year.

The Netherlands: Eating Oliebollen Wards Off Evil Spirits

Grapes might be the perfect good-luck food for warm-climate countries, but in the Netherlands, where New Year’s Eve temperatures usually dip below freezing, a warm, and fatty desert is the star. Here, it’s traditional to indulge in a warm, deep-fried, powdered-sugar-dusted dough known as the oliebol. The translation for this treat is literally “oil ball,” but it’s nothing like it, really. Oliebollen are a tasty combination of oil, dough and sugar, not much different from donuts.

The ritual of eating the sugary dough started in pagan times, as a way to ward off the goddess Perchta and the evil spirits she traveled with. During the 12 days of Christmas she was flying around with them to find things to eat. In her quest, she would even slice open the stomachs of those who already ate to get to their food. Eating oliebollen protected people, since fat absorbed from the oil was supposed to make Perchta’s sword slide off her victims, saving their lives.

The tradition might have started to ward off a hungry Perchta, but it also has a better use. The fat from the sweet treat might help insulate the Dutch from hypothermia, when swimming in icy waters on New Year’s Day, another traditional celebration.

Greece: Hanging Onions And Smashing Pomegranates For Growth And Luck

Onions represent growth and rebirth in Greece since ancient times. This is especially true for a large wild sea onion, believed to have magical powers, since even when uprooted, continues to grow layers, and to blossom. The ancient Greeks used it as offerings to Pan, patron of the wild and nature, when asking for favors.

The belief of Pan granting favors might be gone, but the symbol remained. Today people in Greece hang onions over door mantles, warding off bad spirits and inviting a year of plenty.

A much sweeter, and brighter fruit, the pomegranate, is also significant in Greek New Year traditions. The pomegranate symbolized fertility, life, and abundance in ancient Greek mythology. In modern Greece, it became associated with good luck.

So, to bring in the good luck, Greeks smash a pomegranate on New Year’s Eve. They hang it above their door in late December. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, they turn the lights off and throw the pomegranate at the door, smashing it. The number of pomegranate seeds scattered corresponds to the amount of good luck, health, happiness, and prosperity coming to the household in the new year.

Brazil: Offerings To A Goddess And Jumping 7 Waves

One of the most unique of the New Year traditions in Brazil is offerings to Iemanjá, the deity that protects the oceans. People offer white flowers, and objects like soaps, candles, combs, and necklaces.

They place them in little boats in the ocean and push them toward the open sea to reach the deity. In return, they ask her for protection and peace for the upcoming year.

Another way Brazilians honor Iemanjá is jumping seven waves, one of the most popular New Year traditions in the country. Those who jump seven waves on the first day of the New Year receive spiritual purification and strength to overcome all obstacles in the coming year. With each wave they jump, they make a wish or thank Iemanjá for something good in the old year.

To avoid bad luck, those who finished jumping the seven waves should wait to turn their back to the sea until they are fully out of the water.

Japan: Ringing Bells And Year-Crossing Noodles

Buddhist temples in Japan ring their belles 108 times at the turn of the New Year. They do the first 107 times on New Year’s Eve, and he last one as the clock strikes midnight. Celebrating the passing of the old year and welcoming a new one, the tradition, known as Joya no kane, is meant to disperse the 108 worldly desires and anxieties central to Buddhism. With this ritual, people can start off the new years fresh.

The Japanese also start the new year by visiting a shrine or temple and praying for good fortune.

Another unique New Year tradition in Japan is known as Toshikoshi soba, or year-crossing noodles. This custom consists of eating a bowl of soba, or buckwheat noodles on New Year’s Eve. Dating back about 800 years, the tradition started with a Buddhist temple giving soba to poor people on New Year’s Eve. Eventually, eating these noodles on New Year’s Eve turned into a custom practiced even today, all over Japan.

Since soba noodles are firm and they break easily, they symbolize the “breaking off the old year”. Their long, thin shape represent a long and healthy life.

Happy New Year!

No matter how or where you celebrated, I hope the first few hours and days of the new year were enjoyable. Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year!

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