New Year traditions around the globe share a thread of superstition

The Times Square Ball designed for the news millennium in 2000 - File photo

As odd as it is for people in the Philippines to wear polka dots and eat round fruits to ensure a prosperous future, it is just as unusual for Americans to dine on black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day with the sole intention of bringing good luck for the upcoming year.

Some say the latter dates back to the pharaohs; others say it began in Vicksburg, Virginia, during the Civil War. The story goes that the town was under siege and ran out of food, but the inhabitants were lucky enough to discover cow peas (a.k.a. black-eyed peas). But, whether that is the tradition’s origin or not, it is a superstition that people have believed in and acted upon for many years in order to bring health and happiness upon themselves and their loved ones.

Whatever the tradition, in many countries there is a shared belief that actions taken on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day can affect the fate of the months ahead. And whatever the bizarre notion, it is postulated that a year’s worth of conflicts, mistakes, and worries can be resolved by just turning the calendar page to January ,,, after participating in a few customs that is.

Thought to resemble coins, lentils for the Italians symbolize money and good fortune for the year. The dinner in many parts of the country also includes a zampone (stuffed pig’s trotter), for pork signifies the richness of life in the coming year.

In some regions of China, it is said that long noodles represent a long life; however, cutting a long noodle into smaller bits can bring bad luck and a possibly a short life span. A Chinese citizen must never sweep on the first day of the year because that would clear out any good luck.

The Spanish ritual on New Year’s Eve is to eat twelve grapes at midnight in order to secure twelve happy months in the coming year. Residents in Sao Paulo, Brazil ring in the New Year by donning brightly colored underpants. Those who wear red are hoping for an amorous year and those with yellow wish for money. One is left to wonder, though, how you can find out just who is wearing red and who is wearing yellow.

In Denmark, it is the tradition to save old dishes and throw them at the thresholds of the houses of friends. A porch lined with many bowls and plates denotes a household that will be full of friends and good relationships throughout the year.

The people of Ecuador ring in the New Year by making effigies who represent local and international politicians, or celebrities who are notorious in some way or have been involved in scandals. At midnight the effigies will be beaten and burned for all of the trouble they have caused in the year.

For English-speakers around the globe, “Auld Lang Syne” is commonly sung on New Year’s Eve; the title literally translates as “old long since” and means “times gone by.” It was bandleader Guy Lombardo who first played the song at midnight at a New Year’s Eve party at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1929, and a tradition was born.

One of the most famous traditions in the United States is the dropping of the New Year ball in Times Square, New York City, at 11:59 PM. Every year up to a million people gather to watch the ball make its one-minute descent, arriving exactly at midnight, and an estimated one billion watch the event on television.

Walter F. Palmer, chief electrician for The New York Times, created the first ball in 1907 at the behest of the newspaper’s publisher, Adolph Ochs, who wanted a spectacular midnight show that would draw attention to Times Square. The first one descended from a flagpole at One Times Square and was constructed with iron and wood materials with 100 25-watt bulbs weighing 700 pounds and measuring 5 feet in diameter.

Historians believe the Babylonians were the first to make New Year’s resolutions as long as 4,000 years ago. However, their resolutions did not involve exercising, quitting smoking, or eating healthier. The ancient civilization usually just vowed to return something that was borrowed from a friend in the previous year.

The New Year brings hope for a better life, a peaceful world, health and good fortune, and even to set personal goals for the months ahead. Perhaps it is a time for superstition and traditions, but it is also a time for reflection of what is past; time to start afresh and look forward into a future filled with high hopes and anticipation.

Article by Melissa Parker

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