2008 will end in 15 hours from this time of writing! And 2009 will be another year, a new year! How time has flown. A relative said very aptly last night : "I hardly felt the year passing by!"
We have grown a year older and hopefully a year wiser. And many of us have put a little more in the middle and not as much in the bank!
Two thoughts today: gift traditions at new year and different ways of celebrating new year throughout the world in order to understand the culture of some selected people of the world. Perhaps we can be united in our diversity one day.
Gift Tradition at New Year
With the new year coming in all of us think of new clothes and gifts for each other. We just cannot help it. We dig deep into our pockets to buy things for our loved ones. This generous feeling just comes in suddenly at the end of the year.
From the Celts to the Romans:
The Celtic-Teutonic Druids used to make a gift of their holy plant mistletoe at the beginning of the Year. Among the Romans such gifts were called 'strenae', a word said to be derived from the goddess of luck, Strenia. At first the gifts were branches from sacred trees meant for wishing recipients an auspicious New Year. Later objects like gilded nuts and coins bearing the imprint of Janus, the god with two faces to whom January was sacred.
Rome had also developed a custom of presenting gifts to the emperor. But later the spirit ceased to exist and a 'forced payment' replaced the 'gifts'. Courtesy, the power wielding Roman despots. It went on for some couple of centuries until the practice was forbidden by Pope Leo I the Great in 458.
The English and the Scots:
English royalty, also began to force their subjects in the matter of New Year's gifts as early as the time of Henry III (1216-72). Queen Elizabeth was very watchful of the "who's and what's" of the giving and received great amounts in jewels and gold on New Year's Day. She systematized the practice to the extent of keeping descriptive lists of the gifts presented to her from all walks of life. However, following the splendor of Queen Elizabeth's reign, the practice declined. Finally, when Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came into power, the custom stopped.
The New Year gift exchange was also a common practice among the ordinary English people until the Victorian regime. Gloves were a usual gift. Also popular were oranges stuck with clove, used to preserve and flavor wine. When the English had settled in America they brought in the tradition and continued to exchange gifts and presents at the New Years. So did the French. Thus we find, the predominantly French, New Orleans continued with the New Year's practice for a long time. And in France even today gifts and greeting cards are presented on New Year's Day.
In Scotland, where New Year's is the biggest feast of the year, gifts were solicited by bands of boys who went from door to door begging for money and food and singing the ditty: " I wish you a Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year,
A pocketful of money
And a cellar full of beer,
And a good fat pig
To serve you all the year."
New Year Around The World
Baby New Year Tradition
The tradition of using a baby to signify the New Year was started around 600 B.C by the ancient Greeks, who, at the start of a year would carry a baby around in a basket. The purpose of it was to honor Dionysus, the God of Fertility and symbolize his annual rebirth.
The New Year in Scotland is called Hogmanay. The people in Scotland follow a ritual that appears nutty but actually has a great significance. One can find barrels of tar set afire and gradually rolled down the streets in the villages of Scotland. This ritual symbolizes that the old year is burned up and New Year is going to begin.
3) Burning "Mr. Old Year"
In Columbia, Cuba and Puerto Rico families stuff a life-size male doll with things and then they dress it up in old clothes from each family member. At the stroke of midnight, this 'Mr. Old Year' is set on fire. This is done with the simple belief that a doll thus stuffed have bad memories or sadness associated with them, and that the burning of these will help one to do away with all past grief's and usher in happiness in life with the coming year.
4) Eating Noodles
Late on the evening of December 3 1, people of Japan would eat a bowl of buckwheat noodles called "toshikoshisoba" ("year-crossing noodles") and listen for the sound of the Buddhist temple bells, which were rung 108 times at midnight. The sound of these bells is said to purify the listeners of the 108 sins or evil passions that plague every human being.
5) Eating 12 Grapes
In Spain people eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight (one each time the clock chimes) on New Year's Eve. This peculiar ritual originated in the twentieth century when freak weather conditions resulted in an unseasonable bumper harvest of grapes. Not able to decide what to do about so many grapes at Christmas time, the King of Spain and the grape growers came up with the idea of the New Year ritual.
6) Gifts in Shoes
In Greece children leave their shoes by the fireside on New Year's Day (also the Festival of Saint Basil in Greece) with the hope that Saint Basil, who was famous for his kindness, will come and fill their shoes with gifts.
7) Carrying a Suitcase
In Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, and Mexico, those with hopes of traveling in the New Year carry a suitcase around the house at midnight. Some even carry it around the block to ensure traveling at greater distances.
8) Burning Crackers
The people in China believe that there are evil spirits that roam the earth. So on New Year they burn crackers to scare the evil spirits. The doors and windows of every home in china can be seen sealed with paper. This is to keep the evil demons out.
9) Times Square Celebrations
The first Ball Lowering celebration atop One Times Square was held on December 31, 1907 and is now a worldwide symbol of the turn of the New Year, seen via satellite by more than one billion people each year. The original New Year's Eve Ball weighed 700 pounds and was 5 feet in diameter. It was made of iron and wood and was decorated with 100 25-watt light bulbs.
It was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. It is still held in some regions that special New Year foods are the harbingers of luck. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year's Day will bring good fortune. The hog, and its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another "good luck" vegetable that is consumed on New Year's Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year's Day. The ancient Persians gave New Year's gifts of eggs, which symbolized productiveness.
11) Black-eyed peas
Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the new year by consuming black-eyed peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures.
Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes "coming full circle," completing a year's cycle.
13) Wearing new slippers
In China, many people wear in the new year a new pair of slippers that is bought before the new year, because it means to step on the people who gossip about you.
14) Sealed doors & windows
During new year , the doors and windows of every home in china can be seen sealed with paper. The Chinese think that this will succeed in keep the evil demons out.
15) Jewish New Year
The Jewish New Year is called Rosh Hashanah. It is a holy time when Jews recall the things they have done wrong in the past, and then promise to do better in the future. Special services are held in the synagogues, children are given new clothes and New Year loaves are baked to remind people of harvest time.
16) Japanese New Year
On New Year's Day in Japan, everyone gets dressed in their new clothes. Homes are decorated with pine branches and bamboo, both of which are considered to be the symbols of long life.
17) American resolutions
40 to 45% of American adults make one or more New Year's resolutions each year. And these range from debt reduction to giving up bad habits to what not? But the ones that are the most common deal with weight loss to exercise to giving up smoking.
And tonight we will have another cookout with the whole family sharing the cooking and having a great Asian meal together. That's our family new year tradition for the time being.