Welcome to 2019! I’m excited to be beginning another year. The years keep flying by so quickly these days that every day with my loved ones is welcomed and precious. And at my age, every day above ground is a blessing. Just kidding.. I’m not that old… yet.
As I spent New Year’s Eve watching movies with my kids, I became curious about the traditions associated with the turning of the calendar. So I researched New Year’s traditions, to glean some perspective on our collective perception of “new beginnings,” and what’s most important to remember when moving forward in life. I found some fun and cool facts, and some parallels between celebrations of the beginning of the calendar year and my celebration of Samhain, the Pagan New Year. Many of the Samhain traditions are done purposely to set an intention of how we want to live the upcoming year, and to make a request to the Universe to bring forth what we most desire. New Year’s traditions around the world echo this sentiment.
I started with American rituals. What the heck does Auld Lang Syne mean anyway, and why do we sing it on New Year’s Eve? It’s a traditional Scottish tune reminding us to remember times past, for “Old Times’ Sake,” based on a poem attributed to Robert Burns, and used by bandleader Guy Lombardo (whose show was the predecessor to Dick Clark’s program – and one I actually remember) to establish an American New Year’s Eve standard.* It’s a reminder to keep your friends and family close, and enjoy time while you have it, since it won’t last forever. Kind of a somber reminder on a joyful occasion, but one that we may need while partying like it’s 1999.
Why do we kiss at the stroke of midnight? To set the pattern of sharing affectionate moments with those we love early in the year, in the hopes that the love will last. We dance, drink champagne and make toasts for a similar reason – to begin the year celebrating time with friends and family, to keep that appreciation flowing through the year. Nationwide-broadcast events such as New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and other programs, along with watching fireworks and the ball drop together on television or in person at one of the big (or small) city celebrations brings us together as a community with a common and shared experience. We make a lot of noise with obnoxious horns, rattles and those crank things to scare away any bad luck and evil spirits who may want to mess with us during the year.
Other countries’ traditions also hinge on symbolic gestures to ensure a prosperous year. Attending a religious service is a very important part of some celebrations, to pray for blessings for the year and ward off evil influences. Some traditions observe “Watch Night,” a sort of vigil to welcome in a new year in a state of grace and reverence. Some countries, in contrast, observe it as a state holiday, with a presidential address and the singing of the national anthem. In many Germanic countries an old short called “Dinner for One” is inexplicably broadcast, as it has been continuously since 1972 (after debuting in 1963). This is a British music hall sketch, and its catchphrase “Same procedure as last year? Same procedure as every year” has even found its way into popular German vernacular. It is often broadcast with subtitles, as it’s performed in English, but most Germans know it by heart. Ironically, the sketch is virtually unknown in the U.K. I found it on YouTube and watched it out of curiosity – it’s fun in a slapstick drunk-humor sort of way. Check it out!
Some traditional foods eaten on New Year’s Eve or Day are symbolic – we feast to ensure a year free of hunger. Some eat lentils to evoke coins and a wish for money flowing throughout the year; candy and pastries to ensure a sweet year; and/or pork because pigs root forward with their snouts when eating, showing forward movement and plenty to eat. Some cultures would never eat chicken or turkey on New Year’s, because those animals have to “scratch out a living.” It’s a widespread tradition in most Hispanic or Latin countries to put a grape in one’s mouth at each chime leading to the stroke of midnight, making a wish with each one, then chewing and swallowing all twelve grapes at once to ensure the wishes will come true. Many cultures bake traditional cakes or pastries with small items hidden inside – coins or figurines – with a year’s worth of good luck (and hopefully no broken teeth) coming to the family member who gets the slice containing the item.
What do you wear on New Year’s Eve? While we may dress up in sequins and flash, some cultures wear white to ensure a year free from misfortune, or yellow or red underwear for protection. In some countries men dress in sloppy drag as the “widow” of the previous year, and ask for money door to door as “alimony.”
Many people around the world clean their houses to start fresh, stuff their wallets and pockets with cash to ensure a year of wealth, or carry suitcases around the neighborhood to bring about a year of travel and adventure. Some make sure that the first person to cross their threshold after midnight is a tall, dark, handsome man (women are bad luck – go figure).
All around the world, even in countries using a lunar or other form of calendar, people mark the beginning of the Gregorian calendar in a way that they hope will bring joy and prosperity. No matter where you are, or how you celebrate, it’s the intention that matters. How would you like your year to go? If you begin with laughter, surrounded by friends and doing things you enjoy, you have a great base from which to start, even if things go south later in the year. You have memories of fun and happy times, and you’ll remember in sad times that all things pass, and things will get better again. If you started the new year alone or depressed, find some comfort in the “reset button” – now’s your chance to take stock of what you do have, make improvements where necessary, and do what you need to do to turn things around. It’s never too late – new beginnings are just around the corner. Don’t wait til next year! Every moment carries the promise of a new beginning.
May 2019 be your best year yet, and may the intentions you set this month – carefully, deliberately and with solemn purpose of bringing about what you truly desire – bring you blessings for your greatest and highest good. Blessed be.
*Mr. Lombardo once explained that he played Auld Lang Syne at midnight on New Year’s Eve because in Western Ontario, Canada, where the band was established, there’s a large Scottish population, and it was tradition for bands in the area to end every dance with that song. It became the Royal Canadians’ theme song, and because he ended every radio showed they played with the song, they continued after their transition to television. When they began doing the New Year’s Eve broadcast, they continued playing it at the end of the program – the stroke of midnight – and a new American tradition was born. Can you imagine New Year’s Eve without it?