‘Happy New Year’ will be heard and said many times over the next few weeks, and wishes for a prosperous year to come will be given. There are many New Year traditions to bring good luck which are as old as the holiday itself and come from all around the world.
Most have a connection to what we do on that day and predicts what kind of year we will have after that.
New Year is the oldest holiday celebrated. The first people to celebrate the New Year were the Babylonians and their celebration took place over 11 days with different events.
The ancients celebrated New Years in the spring which makes sense because it is a time of new growth, birth, blossoming and planting crops. The Romans also celebrated the New Year in spring, in late march, but their calendar was continually interfered with and changed.
The Roman senate declared the New Year to be January 1st in 153 BC, but after much more manipulating of the calendar by various emperors, Julius Caesar established the Julian calendar in 46 BC and again established January 1st as the New Year. In order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, he had to let the previous year go on for 445 days.
Many religious communities have a tradition of New Year's Eve being known as "Watch Night". They congregate in worship services starting on New Year's Eve night and continuing past midnight into the New Year. The Watch Night is a time for giving thanks for the blessings of the outgoing year and praying for Gods help during the year to come. Watch night can be traced back to the Moravians who held the first Watch night Service in Herrnhut, Saxony, in 1732. The practice was later taken up by John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church.
In order to have a 'clean slate' to start the New Year, we make resolutions, which represent our efforts to make the year brand new. In fact, we often say that in the New Year we are "turning over a new leaf."
To get ready for New Year’s Day, many people believe that empty pockets, wallets and cupboards on New Year’s Eve heralds a year of poverty, so cupboards must be stocked up and plenty of money must be placed in every wallet in the home to guarantee prosperity. Holding a piece of silver or gold as the New Year begins is supposed to increase the chances of prosperity. Good luck can also been ensured by draining the last dregs from a bottle of drink on this night.
Another tradition involves house cleaning to brush the bad luck of the past out with the dirt before the New Year comes in. The New Year should not begin with old debt, so bills should be paid before January 1st and debts should be settled before the New Year arrives.
New Year’s Day has many traditions and superstitions. At midnight all the doors of the house should be opened to let the Old Year out freely. A lot of noise must be made at midnight, not just for celebration, but also to chase evil spirits away. Evil spirits and also the devil hate loud noise so New Year Celebrations are as loud as possible.
The tradition of kissing at midnight is not just to share the celebration with people who are dear to us, but also to make sure that the relationships with those we love remains throughout the year. If we fail to kiss the one we love at midnight, it could mean a cold year. New clothes should be worn to bring in the New Year to improve the odds of getting more new clothes throughout the year. In Venezuela, those who want to find love wear yellow underwear on New Year’s Eve. In Spain people believe that wearing red underwear on New Year's Eve brings good luck.
The first person to cross the threshold of a house after midnight will affect the kind of year that will follow. If the person is a tall dark haired man, then a year of good luck will follow. If the first person to come into the house is a fair haired man or a woman, then bad luck can be expected. This well known superstition originated in Scotland, but is widely observed around the world.
The luck is even better if the person comes with gifts like a lump of coal, a silver coin, bread, a sprig of evergreen and some salt. This person should be let in, they should not let themselves in with a key, and after greeting those in the house and giving whatever tokens of luck he has brought with him, he must leave the house through a different door. This person is known as the First Footer, sometimes called the “Lucky Bird”, and must not have flat feet, crossed eyes or eyebrows that meet in the middle.
Nothing should leave the house on New Year’s Day, not even garbage. Not even a rug should be shaken out. Loans of money or any precious item should not be made on New Year’s Day, also loans should not be paid back on New Year’s Day or you could be paying out all year. Things should not be broken on New Year’s Day in case the wreck becomes part of the year. No crying either, because it could set the tone for the rest of the year to come.
Chicken or turkey should not be eaten on the first day of the year because these birds scratch in the dirt for their food, so to eat them might cause the diners to scratch in the dirt for their dinner all year as well. Poultry also scratches backwards which may cause regret and dwelling on the past. It is also bad luck to eat lobster on New Year’s Day because they move backwards and so cause setbacks.
In Italy, Germany and Brazil, beans, peas and lentils are eaten on New Year’s Day because their shape is symbolic of coins and they swell when they cook and so are eaten with financial gain in mind. Black eyed peas are lucky on New Year’s Day in the USA. Greens, like collards, cabbage, kale and chard are considered lucky because they look like folded money and symbolise prosperity. Pork is a symbol of prosperity in many cultures and considered lucky because pigs route forward symbolizing progress.
In Ireland, they bang on the door and walls with Christmas bread to chase the bad luck out and bring in good spirits with the promise of enough bread in the New Year. This is like the tradition of banging pots and pans in Iran or the Chinese tradition of firecrackers to bring in the New Year.
In the Philippines, at midnight children jump up and down to make sure they will grow tall and in Germany they drop melted lead into cold water and take turns reading the results. Kits are now sold for this popular tradition. In many Latin countries, 12 grapes are eaten before midnight, one for every month of the year which foretells what kind of year is to come. Anything that forms a circle, like doughnuts or pretzels, is eaten for good fortune in the coming year.
The traditions are as varied as the places they come from, but they all involve sharing with friends and family and wishes for happiness, health and prosperity in the New Year.
So, when I drain the dregs of my bottle of drink for luck, ‘Happy New Year’ to every one.
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