Celebrations Around the World

For those countries and cultures around the world that celebrate the arrival of January 1 as their new year, not all celebrate the ringing out of the old and the ringing in of the new in the same manner. Consider this:

The birthplace of Auld Lang Syne, Scotland also is the home of Hogmanay (hog-mah-NAY), the rousing Scottish New Year’s celebration, which has as one of it’s traditions what is called “first-footing:” Shortly after midnight on New Year’s eve, neighbors pay visits to each other and impart New Year’s wishes. The Edinburgh Hogmanay celebration is the largest in the country and consists of an all-night street party. Visit Edinburgh’s Hogmanay website here.

In Greece, New Year’s Day is also the Festival of St. Basil, one of the founders of the Greek Orthodox Church. One of the traditional foods served is “Vassilopitta,” or St Basil’s cake. A silver or gold coin is baked inside the cake. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of cake will be especially lucky during the coming year. You can find a recipe for Vassilopitta here.

A symbol of renewal, January 1 is the most important holiday in Japan. In December, various Bonenkai or “forget-the-year parties” are held to bid farewell to the problems and concerns of the past year and prepare for a new beginning. Misunderstandings and grudges are forgiven and houses are scrubbed. At midnight on Dec. 31, Buddhist temples strike their gongs 108 times, in a effort to expel 108 types of human weakness. New Year’s day itself is a day of joy and no work is to be done. Children receive otoshidamas, small gifts with money inside. Sending New Year’s cards to arrive on January 1 is a popular tradition.

Like most festivals in Spain, New Year’s Eve, known as “Nochevieja” (literally “old night”) is typically a family affair that takes place at home. On the stroke of midnight each family member eats 12 grapes to secure twelve happy months in the coming year. This tradition began when after a particularly big grape harvest, the king of Spain decided to give everybody grapes to eat on New Year’s Eve. Even young people typically do not go out with their friends until they have seen the New Year in with their families.

On December 31, the Dutch burn bonfires of Christmas trees on the street and launch fireworks when the clock strikes 12. The fires are meant to banish anything negative in the past year as a way of preparing for the new year. On New Year’s Day, some towns and villages organize New Year’s Dives that include short swims through the ice-cold water of the North Sea or a lake or canal.

In Austria, New Year’s Eve typically is celebrated with friends and family. At exactly midnight, radio and television stations broadcast the sound of the Pummerin (the bell of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna), after which The Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss, is played. Large crowds gather on the streets of Vienna, where the municipal government organizes a series of stages from which bands and orchestras play. Fireworks are set off both by private citizens and local governments.

The most famous tradition in the United States is the dropping of the New Year ball in Times Square, New York City, at 11:59 P.M. Thousands gather to watch the ball make its one-minute descent, arriving exactly at midnight. The tradition first began in 1907. The original ball was made of iron and wood; the current ball is made of Waterford Crystal, weighs 1,070 pounds, and is six feet in diameter. Both Americans and Canadians enjoy singing Aulde Lang Syne, an old Scottish song that was first published by the poet Robert Burns in the 1796 edition of the book, Scots Musical Museum. Burns transcribed it (and made some refinements to the lyrics) after he heard it sung by an old man from the Ayrshire area of Scotland, Burns’s homeland.

However you decide to welcome 2012,
your friends at Marathon Press send you
Best Wishes for a Very Happy and
Prosperous New Year!

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