As we plough into the first day of a brand new year, I thought I might take a look at some of the ways that people around the world celebrate. I found some fascinating traditions.
We’ll start with the UK because that’s what I’m most familiar with. I’m not sure how many, if any, of these traditions/superstitions are purely Welsh but we’ll say UK as a cover-all.
First footing – this is the tradition that the first visitor of the New Year should be a dark haired male bringing gifts of bread and coal. When I lived at home with my parents, it was usually our next door neighbour. Sometimes, if the neighbour was celebrating with us, he would go out of the back door and around again to the front.
Never borrow or lend on New Year’s Day, and for God’s sake don’t wash any clothes or someone will die. Enough of that in 2016, I think.
Some of the wilder traditions that are, sadly, no longer practiced are:-
Mari Llwyd (Grey Mare)
Basically, a horse skull on a long pole is covered with a white sheet and decorated with flowers and ribbons. The mari lwyd is then paraded through town, running and snapping at people. In old times the men accompanying the mari lwyd would knock on the door of houses and enter into a singing/insulting battle with the homeowner then be invited in for a drink. By the end of the night both men and mare were three sheets to the wind (very drunk)
There are various callenig traditions which all involve groups of children going from house to house to collect callenigs (new year gifts) which usually took the form of copper coins or sweet treats. In some areas they carry apples on sticks, stuck with holly and spices, in other places cups of water which was splashed with birch sticks. There are also songs and verses which vary All of this is intended to give the household good luck through the year
Okay, enough about Wales. What goes on elsewhere in the world.
New Year is a very important festival in Japan and has a myriad traditions and customs from families gathering to clean the house from top to bottom, to elabourate decorations and religious observances. Some of my favourites are
Joya no Kane
At exactly midnight all the temples ring bells. The bells ring exactly 108 times. This relates to the Buddhist belief that human beings are troubled by 108 earthly desires and feelings. With each bell, one of the troubles falls away leaving you clean in body, mind and spirit to start the new year fresh.
Family and friends gather round for a feast served in a special layered box, jubako. All of the foods eaten have been ascribed meaning over the generations to represent one New Year wish. My favourite example is lotus root which represents lack of obstructions (because you can see through the holes without obstruction)
Children receive small envelopes from parents, grandparents, family etc containing money. In a world filled with too much “stuff” and children who are overly concerned with getting the right “stuff” this is a tradition which is more and more being adopted by the West for Christmas. I, myself have given money in Christmas cards to family members who I have no idea what gifts to buy for. Even in Japan, the giving of money has evolved from rice cakes, through toys and gifts. Are we getting lazier or the children more spoiled?
One of the most important Chinese traditions is the New Year’s Eve dinner. It is very much a family dinner when everyone gets together in preparation for the new year. Everyone stays up until midnight when they set off fireworks to welcome in the new year and drive away any left over negativity from the old year.
The time after the NYE feast when family members stay awake to welcome in the new year or to stay up all night to make sure the demon “Year” doesn’t strike, by lighting fires, setting off fireworks and keeping vigil.
Like in Japan these envelopes bear money gifts for children.
The new year ends on the fifteenth day with the Yuan Xiao festival, also called the lantern festival which, I think, is one of the prettiest festivals ever.
The last day of the year is called Silvester after Pope Silvester who died 31 December 335. Traditions vary through the country. Here are some of my favourites
It’s a tradition all over the country to give small lucky charms to family, friends and guests. These can include, four leaved clover, sweeps, horseshoes and small marzipan pigs.
In a tradition very similar to ours is that you can’t hang washing out on NYE or day. Just like with us, washing on NYD leads to a death in the family. Can’t see the connection, but who am I to argue with tradition?
Melting lead in a small spoon over a candle and pouring it into water to make weird and wonderful shapes. This reminds me of a NYE tradition we have in Wales of making Taffy. Basically you make toffee in a pot, then slowly pour into a bowl of cold water. It makes shapes and patterns, sometimes even letters or numbers, and some people like to use them for fortune telling. Taffy has the advantage though, I think, because you can eat it afterwards.
Like China, India celebrates the new year at a different time than those who follow the Gregorian calendar, and it occurs in late October/early November. It is called Diwali or the Festival of Lights. The lights have more than one purpose/meaning, for example celebrating the triumph of the Hindu god Rama agianst the evil king who stole his kingdom and wife (aka the triumph of good against evil), or the more secular purpose of lighting the way of the goddess of Good Fortune, Lakshmi to your home.
It is a time of new beginnings when businesses settle debts and begin new account books, and people buy new things for their homes, or even clothes.
In southern India mothers put small gifts and food on a tray and children can’t open their eyes until they have been led to the tray.
One of my favourite traditions of all comes from Denmark where they throw dishes at each other’s houses. The bigger the pile of dishes the more friends the person has. Although, I think I might be stressed out and worried how big my pile would be.
They also have the amusing tradition of jumping off a chair at midnight. It would have been nice to jump off a chair and squash 2016.
Traditions revolve around the beach. White clothes are preferred, but with colourful undergarments, each colour representing something eg green for good health, yellow for wealth and read for romance and passion.
Flowers and candles are thrown into the sea, adorn its edges or float on little rafts as a gift for the sea goddess Lemanja.
Food is also a big part of Brazilian celebrations. Lucky foods are lentils, pork and fish. You have to eat eight pieces of raisin before the clock strikes twelve. This is reminiscent of Spain where you eat one grape for every strike.
So, there are some traditions and celebrations from around the world. There are so many more but I’m becoming conscious of how long this post is. There is only one more tradition I would like to honour, and this is saying a very Happy New Year to all my family, friends, readers and casual lurkers.
Blwyddyn Newidd Dda I Bawb