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Celebrating New Year's

Martha Stewart Living, January 2003

Each culture and religion marks the New Year differently. The Chinese lunar year, for example, commences in January or February; the Jewish New Year, which usually falls in September, commemorates what the Jews believe to be the anniversary of the world's creation. But even where January 1 is the accepted date, customary observances vary.

United States
In 1904, the New York Times threw a public party for the newspaper's new headquarters at One Times Square. Three years later, a 700-pound globe studded with light bulbs was lowered from a flagpole atop the building to mark the arrival of the New Year. It's been dropped almost every year since.

Now close to half a million people crowd into Times Square in New York City once a year to witness the focal point of American celebrations on New Year's Eve, which is broadcast live to millions: the lowering of the illuminated ball at midnight.

England
The custom of toasting, as we know it today, originated in medieval England. Back then, the clinking of glasses was accompanied by the exclamation "Waes haeil," Middle English for "Be well." The word toast, in this context, came along in the seventeenth century, when pieces of spiced, toasted bread were placed in drinks, perhaps to enhance their flavor. Today, people throughout the world toast the New Year, but without the croutons of times past.

Scotland
For Hogmanay, the celebration of the Scottish New Year, merrymaking continues for two days. At midnight on January 1, revelers toast friends and family with a glass of whiskey, accompanied by a few heartfelt choruses of Auld Lang Syne, whose poignant lyrics were written by Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns. After midnight, neighbors go "first footing," exchanging food and drink door to door. According to superstition, if the first visitor to cross your threshold is a tall, dark, and handsome man, the year will be a prosperous one.

Scots traditionally throw open their windows and doors at midnight to let out the old year and usher in the new. During the nineteenth century, the blasts of ships' horns filled the air. Today, it is more likely to be the sound of fireworks exploding.

Japan
Shogatsu, or "new year," is Japan's most important holiday. Schools and companies close for three days from January 1 to 3. Preparations include placing a bundle of pine branches and bamboo at the entrance to each home for good luck. The Japanese pack lacquer boxes with osechi ryori -- special foods such as herring roe, for prosperity, and rolled seaweed, symbolizing pleasure and delight -- to be enjoyed throughout the holiday.

Starting at midnight on January 1, ceremonial bells toll while families visit Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples to pray for happiness in the coming year. The next few days are spent feasting, exchanging gifts, and playing games.

Comments (5)

  • irow2 28 Dec, 2007

    In the Philippines, people light fireworks and firecrackers before the stroke of midnight to welcome the new year. It is usually followed by a hearty late dinner called "Media Noche". People place coins on the doorsteps to symbolize prosperity for the coming year. All cannisters and containers (especially for rice, salt, pepper, and other Filipino staples) are filled and replenish to symbolize abundance or so the whole family does not go hungry in the coming year.

  • celiseev 27 Dec, 2007

    In Russia, it's the night that Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost - aka Santa) delivers gifts to children under the New Year's Tree, with the help of his granddaughter, Snegurichka (the Snow Maiden). It's an all night celebration that includes a feast that begins at midnight, when we hear on TV the bells of the Kremlin churches ring in the new year. We say if your plate is full at midnight, it will remain that way through out the new year.

  • malucacho 27 Dec, 2007

    PHILIPPINES
    AT THE STRROKE OF MIDNIGHT, EACH GUEST IS HOLDING A TINY BOWL OF 12 GRAPES. PER "GONG" YOU PLOP A GRAPE IN YOUR MOUTH AND SWALLOW IT. AT THE STROKE OF TWELVE YOU HAVE TAKEN THE 12 GRAPES AND THE NEW YEAR BEGINS.

    malucacho@yahoo.com

  • maviles 27 Dec, 2007

    In Peru (South America), people who want to travel in the new year can be seen going around the block with a travel or suitcase. There is also another tradition where people go under the table three times to bring good luck, love and fortune in the new year. Both traditions are great fun!

  • escorialmonastery 27 Dec, 2007

    In Spain, everyone holds a cup with 12 grapes and we all eat it at the same time. a clock in madrid in the center of town marks the entire country and we eat each grape with every sound of the clock during the midnight minute. it is good luck to do so.