New Year is the oldest holiday still being celebrated. The Babylonians celebrated the New Year as early as 4000 B.C. At that time, the New Year began on the first new moon after the Vernal Equinox. The celebration continued for eleven days, with each day having a different purpose and activity.
Some of the most widely used superstitions include the following: Kissing at midnight to ensure that the affections and relationships that we have made will continue for the next year. Stocking your pantries with food to ensure that you will have plenty of food throughout the next year. Putting money in every wallet in the house to ensure prosperity. Also all of your bills should be paid before New Year’s Day to ensure that prosperity will be welcomed in your home but do not pay any bills on New Year’s Day or you will ensure a year of paying nothing but debts. You should not eat beef because cows mostly stand still. You should not eat poultry because they scratch backwards. Pigs, however, constantly root forward for food. So if you eat pork on New Year’s, you will be moving forward in a positive manner throughout the year.
Wearing new clothes will increase your chances of receiving more clothes. Throughout the world the custom of making noise to ring in the New Year has not changed since ancient times as this is to scare off any evil spirits.
In Britain the custom of first footing is practiced. The first male visitor to the house after midnight brings good luck. Usually they bring a gift of money, bread, or coal, to ensure the family will have plenty of these things all the year to come. The first person must not be blond, red-haired or women as these people are supposedly bad luck.
The Druids gave a gift of mistletoe, the sacred source of fertility. It would give you a fruitful year in the number of children, cattle and crops and thus wealth.
In Ireland the direction of the wind blowing at New Year would indicate the trend of politics in the coming year. If it blew from the west it would bring the Irish good luck, if from the east the English would have the luck. Also on New Year’s Eve if they ate a very large supper they would have plenty of food for the coming year.
In France dinner parties are thrown for the entire family customarily include special dishes like foie gras, oysters and champagne. They exchange kisses and wishes, saying, “Bonne Année”, Bonheur, Sante, Amour, Argent (“Good Year”, Happiness, Health, Love and Money).
In Germany people would drop molten lead into cold water to tell the future from the shape it made. A heart or ring shape meant a wedding, a ship a journey, and a pig plenty of food in the year ahead. People also would leave a bit of every food eaten on New Year’s Eve on their plate until after Midnight to ensure a filled pantry. Carp brings wealth. Traditionally jelly filled doughnuts with or without liquor fillings are eaten. Finally a tiny marzipan pig is eaten for more good luck. (Hmmm, eating a lot & eating pig seems to be a recurring theme.)
In Denmark, they stand on chairs and then jump off them at midnight. Leaping into January is supposed to banish bad spirits and bring good luck.
January 1st is an important date in Greece because it is not only the first day of the New Year but it is also St. Basil’s Day. St Basil was one the founders of the Greek Orthodox Church, who was kind and generous to the poor. St Basil’s cake, baked with a silver or gold coin inside, is eaten. Whoever receives the coin will have good luck throughout the year. Pomegranates & grapes also bring good luck.
Italians call New Year’s Eve Capodanno (the “head of the year”). Traditionally, they wear red underwear. A lentil stew is eaten when bell tolls midnight – one spoon per bell. This is supposed to bring good fortune; the lentils represent coins.
In Spain celebrations usually begin with a family dinner, including shrimp, lamb or capon. Wearing new, red underwear on New Year’s Eve brings good luck. It is traditional to eat twelve grapes, one on each chime of the clock, make a wish and then toast with sparkling wine such as cava or champagne. This tradition started in 1909, when grape growers in Alicante needed a way to get rid of the large surplus of grapes they had had that year.
In Puerto Rico and in parts of South America children enjoy throwing pails of water out the window at midnight. Some believe that this rids their home of any evil spirits.
In Bolivia families make beautiful little wood or straw dolls to hang outside their homes to bring good luck.
In Brazil the lentil is believed to signify wealth, so on the first day of the New Year they serve lentil soup or lentils and rice. The lentils are supposed to resemble coins. Grapes are also eaten. Brazilians traditionally dress in white, to bring good luck into the New Year.
Mexicans celebrate New Year’s Eve, Año Nuevo, by eating 1 grape while making a wish with each of the twelve chimes during the midnight countdown. Homes and parties are decorated with colors such as red, to improve lifestyle and love, yellow to improve employment conditions, green to improve finances and white to improve health. Mexican sweet bread is baked with a coin or charm hidden in the dough. When the bread is served, the recipient whose slice contains the coin or charm will have good luck in the New Year. Another tradition is to make a list of all the bad or unhappy events from the current year and before midnight throw it into a fire, symbolizing the removal of negative energy from the New Year. At the same time, thanks are given for all the good things.
In Costa Rica in addition to eating the 12 grapes, they run across the streets with luggage asking for new trips and adventures in the upcoming year.
In Venezuela, many of the traditions are very similar to the ones from Spain. Those who want to find love in the New Year wear red underwear and yellow to have happiness. If you want money, you must have a bill of high value when it is time to toast and if you want to travel, you must go out carrying some luggage.
In India people try to finish uncompleted work and pay off all debts before the end of the year. People buy new things for their homes or new clothes. Animals are washed, groomed and decorated for the festival.
Chinese New Year is celebrated on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Firecrackers and noisemakers will chase away evil spirits. The fabulous dragon and lion will dance in the streets. People will wear red, the most auspicious of colors, and red envelopes with lucky money will be given to children. Tangerines are often given for good luck, but odd numbers are unlucky, so the tangerines are given in pairs.
It is traditional in Japan to spend a full week preparing for the New Year to arrive. The house must be thoroughly cleaned and all debts must be paid. All disagreements must be resolved and forgiven. Before midnight, 108 bells ring, to symbolize the elimination of 108 troubles. With no troubles, disagreements, debts, or disorder to contend with, all are free to welcome in the New Year with every expectation of peace and prosperity. The day after New Year’s is First Writing Day, when people write their hopes and dreams for the New Year.
Round shapes (representing coins) bring prosperity for the coming year in the Philippines. Families have large amounts of round fruits on the dining table and eat exactly 12 fruits at midnight (grapes). Some wear polka dots for luck.
In the USA black-eyed peas and rice called Hoppin’ John is eaten. An old saying goes, “Eat peas on New Year’s day to have plenty of everything the rest of the year.” Most people toast with champagne at midnight. The dropping of the ball from the top of Times Square in New York City started in 1907. The custom came from the time signal that used to be given at noon in harbors. New Year’s Eve is traditionally the busiest day of the year at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland in Anaheim, California.