“It Never Hurts to Smile” by Mike Rosen

And Just How Did YOU Celebrate the New Year?

Forgive my curiosity, but exactly how did you celebrate New Year’s Eve? Usually, my better two-thirds and l spend the evening with a couple we’ve been friends with for many years.

But this year–thanks to the pandemic of course–we eschewed being with our friends physically and spent some time with them on Zoom, also watched some television, grazed on finger foods, and when the Times Square ball dropped at midnight we toasted in 2021 with a glass of champagne and a great deal of hope. We also have a New Year’s Day tradition, but more about that later.

Many of you may have had a similar evening, or perhaps you, as is the case with many people I know, didn’t treat the night any differently than any other. As a nation, we’re predictable in how we celebrate a new year. Under normal circumstances, to celebrate we might go out to dinner with or without friends, get together with a few people, go to or host a party, take in a movie, and, of course, eat and drink ourselves silly.

Allow me to be blunt. Compared to a huge chunk of the world we, my friends, are boring. Let’s kick off 2021 by examining how just a small number of countries celebrate a new year.

Broken Plates (Denmark)

Denmark has an interesting tradition for New Year’s Eve that is shared by a few other European countries. Stated simply the Danes break plates, and while many—if not most—leave broken pieces at the doorsteps of family and friends; there are still those who follow the ancient tradition of breaking plates by throwing them at neighbors’ and friends’ front doors. All of them hope to come home to a huge pile of broken porcelain at their own front door. Why, you ask? They believe that the more dishes that are broken and piled up at your door on January 1st, the more friends and good fortune you will have. And if that’s not enough, at midnight Danes like to jump off chairs, leaping into the new year.

Año Viejo (Ecuador)

Ecuadorans celebrate the New Year by burning paper-filled effigies at midnight. They also burn photographs from the previous year. This is considered a purification rite so as to start the new year fresh. Interestingly, while for many years the burning effigies were simple scarecrows, most Ecuadorans now create effigies that resemble the powerful and famous—especially looking like politicians.

Eating 12 Grapes (Spain)

In Spain, it is a tradition to eat 12 grapes in the first twelve seconds of a new year. Each grape represents a month of good luck, but only by eating all 12 grapes in 12 seconds is one assured the best of luck throughout the year. (Not surprising that champagne grapes sell out early in the week preceding New Year’s Eve.)

Round Things (Philippines)

On New Year’s Eve in the Philippines the key word is “round.” Round symbolizes coins, hence, the more a Filipino is surrounded by round objects, the greater their wealth in the coming year. This means eating round food, using round plates, making sure there are round fruits prominently displayed on the tables, and definitely wearing polka dotted clothes (women, men, and children).

Colored Underwear (South America)

Throughout several South American countries on December 31, whatever is the color of your underwear at the stroke of midnight will determine your fate for the new year. The underwear has to be new and if you want wealth, wear gold or yellow. If you want peace, then wear white. And for those seeking true love, wearing red is a must.

Joya no Kane (Japan)

In Japan it is a Buddhist tradition to ring bells in the temples 108 times. The first 107 represent all of the worldly desires one will have in the course of a lifetime. The 108th bell represents the need to forget one’s problems from the previous year. The bell ringing brings cleanliness and good fortune. (Mike likes this tradition.)

The Takanakuy Festival (Peru)

Every year on December 25 people in the Chumbivilcas Province of Peru engage in fist fights to settle their differences of the previous year. By doing this, they believe, they can start the year on a clean slate with each other. Even though the day is preceded with several days of celebratory imbibing of alcoholic beverages, the fights themselves are reportedly far more civilized than the wrestling and mixed martial arts shows one sees on television. Referees ensure no one is taken advantage of and, again, according to all reports, the fights end with both parties feeling that what was past is, in fact, over and done with.

Dropping Ice Cream (Switzerland)

In Switzerland they celebrate the New Year by dropping ice cream on the floor. This is to ensure a year filled with abundance (and, hopefully, more ice cream).

Water Buckets (Puerto Rico)

In some parts of Puerto Rico it is traditional to toss pails of water out of windows. This, it is believed, will drive away evil spirits. At the very least, it will get them very wet and no one takes a wet evil spirit seriously. I certainly never did.

Een Zalig Nieuwjaar (Belgium)

Belgium has a triad of New Year’s Day traditions: First, the day must include a meal of sauerkraut. Second, children go to neighbors’ houses and sing to them, often then being rewarded with sweets or money. Finally, people go to local farms to whisper New Year’s wishes to the cows, pigs, and horses (a tradition shared by Romanians, by the way). All three combine to all but guarantee a year of good fortune. Thus far, no opinions have been shared by any of the cows or pigs. When asked if there really is a guarantee, the horses simply said, “Neigh.” (Oh, come on! You knew I was going there!)

Delicious Coins (Bolivia)

In Bolivia, people bake shiny coins into cakes, breads, and pastries. Whoever finds a coin is assured a prosperous year. Hopefully, the coin is found before a tooth is broken.

Penny in the Peas (American South)

Since the Civil War it has been a southern tradition to put a penny in a bowl of black-eyed peas to be served with dinner. Whoever finds the coin receives additional luck for the year. (In the Rosen household, we do have black-eyed peas with our New Year’s Day dinner but don’t add the coin, as this is how Susan’s family celebrated the custom. The maternal side of her family is from Tennessee. My side of the family comes from the South Bronx where putting money in food would not result in good luck.) Some southerners also believe that one has to eat exactly 365 of the peas to guarantee a full year of luck. But if you eat more than that number, you lose a day for each additional pea. Whether you eat 365 black-eyed peas, or some fewer, you’ll at least start the year with a decent amount of calcium as well as both soluble and insoluble fiber.

Suitcases, too? (Colombia)

On New Year’s Day, in addition to eating the 12 grapes and wearing specifically colored underwear, Colombians also carry their suitcases around in hopes of having a travel-filled year. January 1 is certainly a busy day in Colombia.

Songkran (Thailand)

What better way to celebrate a new year than by throwing buckets of water on each other? Doesn’t quite meet your needs? Don’t worry about it, the Thais also go around smearing each other with gray talc. Incidentally, Songkran is Thailand’s longest holiday. It lasts three full days and is enormously beneficial to their tourist trade as people come by the thousands from around the word to participate in what is essentially a 3-day water fight.

Furniture Disposal (South Africa)

You’re certainly familiar with the expression “Out with the old, in with the new.” Well, in parts of South Africa, the New Year’s tradition is to throw old furniture, appliances, even refrigerators out of balconies, roofs, and windows. To say the least, this is a very messy and extremely dangerous custom that always results in some folks ending the day with serious injuries, hospitalizations, and even death. Incidentally, this is also a New Year’s Eve tradition shared by a number of people in parts of Italy.

Reshaping Tin (Finland)

The people of Finland love to celebrate New Year’s Eve with a wide variety of traditions, many of which we all share as they include partying, champagne toasts, and eating special foods. One tradition that certainly sounds like fun to yours truly involves melting tin and pouring it into a bucket of cold water. The newly shaped tin piece is then analyzed by the group to determine what kind of year the person who did the pouring will have. According to my sources, Finns rarely receive anything but good fortune.

Eating For Abundance (Estonia)

In order to assure a year of plenty, an Estonian tradition dictates eating 7 to 12 meals on New Year’s Day. Additionally, one will then have the strength of as many people as meals that are consumed. Nonetheless, some food is always left on the plates to nourish the spirits of ancestors who have come to visit on New Year’s Day.

Frozen Tree Trunks (Siberia)

What else would one do on New Year’s Day in Siberia besides jumping into a frozen-over lake while holding a tree trunk? After all, it’s usually a balmy 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Nonetheless, it is a Russian tradition for two divers who are nicknamed Father Frost and the Ice Maiden to dive into Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake. The divers swim to the bottom of the lake (about 100 feet) to plant a decorated spruce. And with the air temperature about 10 degrees Fahrenheit—not including the wind-chill factor, one can only imagine the thrill of being 100 feet underwater and then surfacing.

However you celebrated, or didn’t celebrate, New Year’s Eve and/or New Year’s Day, a happy and healthy 2021 to you and yours from me and mine. Let’s all look forward to—and work towards–a better tomorrow.

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