Quaint New Years Superstitions and Customs
Yes, it’s that time of the year again. In many parts of the world at the stroke of midnight on Dec 31st people will be saying goodbye to the old year then, one minute after, with much fanfare they usher in the new.
In addition to all the festivities there are many charming superstitions indicative of the many cultures celebrating New Years. Almost always the premise behind it all is the desire to invite in Lady Luck and ward off evil and ultimately set a positive tone for the coming year.
For example; there are perfectly good reasons for all the loud noises, the cheers, church bells, firecrackers and exploding fireworks that accompanies the countdown and the subsequent ringing in the New Year. Besides allowing people to let off steam, these are deemed essential to scaring away all pesky evil spirits and thoughts. For, you see, evil spirits, demons and the Devil himself just hate loud noises. Similarly, Buddhist temples strike their gongs 108 times, in an effort to expel the 108 types of human weakness.
Here’s a strange one; some believe hanging a lemon in the doorway helps in warding off bad spirits. Hey, whatever works, right?
Some open the doors at midnight to let the old year escape unimpeded and, along with it, discard all the ill luck from the previous year, meanwhile allowing all the good to rush in on New Year’s Day. Superstitious, or perhaps pragmatist, Italians do one more; they welcome the New Year by tossing old things out of their windows. Old things are discarded in an effort to make room for the new and allow luck to enter their households and life in the coming year.
To assure good luck for the New Year some people sleep with a horseshoe under their pillow on New Year’s Eve. Good luck in finding one. You could also ensure yourself good fortune by draining the last dregs from a bottle of liquor on New Years!
One must never leave the home before someone comes in first. The first person to enter your home after the stroke of midnight will influence the year you’re about to have. The first footer (also called the “Lucky Bird”) should knock and be let in rather than unceremoniously use a key, even if he is one of the householders. He should be ushered in with a warm welcome. First footers must not be cross-eyed, have flat feet or have eyebrows that meet in the middle. Ideally, he should be a dark-haired, tall, good-looking gentleman and it would be even better if he came bearing small gifts such as a lump of coal, a silver coin, a bit of bread, a sprig of evergreen, and some salt. Because of the Vikings blonde and redhead first footers are believed to bring bad luck into the household, especially if they are female.
After greeting those in the house and dropping off small tokens of luck he’d brought with him, he should make his way through the house and leave by a different door than the one through which he entered.
It is said by some that the first visitor to enter the house on the first of January determines the balance of power in the marriage for the next 365 days. If a man enters your door then the husband will have more authority for the whole year and if a woman enters, then the wife will have complete control.
Ladies, here’s a perfectly good excuse to purchase new clothes, for wearing these on the first day of the year promises many more to come rest of the year.
We kiss those dearest to us at the stroke of midnight not only to share a moment of celebration with our favorite people but also to ensure those affections and ties will continue throughout the next twelve months. It is a firm belief that what you do the first seconds or the subsequent hour of the New Year will be what you do rest of the year. If you happen to be alone at midnight, kissing the dog or cat should suffice. But brush their teeth first.
I hardly think this needs mentioning but here it is; fortunate are those babies that are born on the first day of the New Year for it is said that these new beings will have good luck in their entire life and, as well, bring good fortune to their family.
Many of the foods that are good to eat resemble money or have to do with moving forward. The Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Day will bring good fortune; the shape of a ring is considered good luck, because it symbolizes “coming full circle,” completing a year’s cycle. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year’s Day. Other lucky foods are pork, smoked sausage, boiled cabbage or sauerkraut. Pork, because pigs root forward when they eat and we all want to move forward! Lentils, which resemble coins, should be consumed on New Year’s Day. The Italian people eat a traditional New Year dish called cotechino con lenticchie: pork sausage served over lentils. This New Year food is eaten because cotechino sausage is a symbol of abundance, rich in fat, while lentils symbolize money therefore it promises double doses of luck.
In contrast, it is advised to stay away from eating Chicken on the first day of the year lest it brings financial difficulties for the rest of the year. Darn that Chicken!
Eating black-eyed peas and greens such as cabbage, collard greens, mustard greens, kale or spinach for instance, is believed to bring good luck and financial prosperity. The peas represent good luck and the greens represent money; cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. Eating cornbread will also bring wealth.
Some families have adapted an old tradition of burying a silver or gold coin in the rice, peas or baked inside the cake to ensure a fortunate year for the finder.
Devouring great quantities of grapes particularly at this time is considered good luck. According to Spanish Tradition, twelve grapes (each symbolizing a month of the year) are eaten at midnight. If the grape is very sweet then it means that its specific month will also be sweet and pleasant. If the grape turns out sour, then one knows the month will also be sour. Here’s the fun part. Ideally the munching of these 12 grapes has to be perfectly timed with the chimes of the clock in Madrid’s “Puerta del Sol” that are transmitted live by virtually all Spanish TV and Radio networks. Also, the “Puerta del Sol” Plaza itself is packed with people that are gobbling up the grapes on the spot. There is a special grape harvest in mid-December to cater to just such a demand for New-Year’s Eve grapes. How delightful when families and groups of friends all gather to “eat the grapes” together. Immediately after the grapes are wolfed down Champagne bottles are popped (in Spain Cava is the rule, not Champagne) and kisses, hugs and good wishes are exchanged. Adding to this charming tradition it is customary to greet your close relatives and friends as soon as possible after ‘the grapes’, therefore there is tremendous haste to engage telephone lines.
More New Year’s Do’s and Don’ts:
What a person does on this day will influence their activity for the rest of the year.
Crying on the first day of the year must be avoided as this could bring unhappiness all through the year. One must always be happy, upbeat and in good spirits when ushering in the New Year.
It is said that one must do a token amount of work on the New Year’s Day. This is said to ensure advancement in one’s career. But starting a serious work project is unlucky on New Year Day.
Avoid wearing a dress with empty pockets on New Year’s Eve since it may be a sign of very low or no income in the year to come. It is best to have some cash tucked away in your pockets. Similarly, keep your purses and wallets full of money and, if possible, pay off all your debts before New Year’s Eve. Furthermore, do not lend money or other precious items on New Year’s Day as that would mean a year will be spent loaning out money.
Do not enter in the New Year with bare cupboards, lest that be the shape of things to come. Cupboards stocked with food are said to bring prosperity and luck in the New Year.
Certain tasks are not to be done between Christmas and New Year’s Day; among them are knitting and sewing. Resist the urge to load up the dishwasher, wash any dishes or do the laundry on New Year’s Day lest a member of the family be ‘washed away’ in the coming months. The dirty clothes can wait until January 2nd, for washing will bring a year of hard work.
Do not break anything on this day as it is considered a bad omen and also signals destruction in the coming year. This is especially true for a mirror, as that could be doubly bad. And this is another good reason not to do the dishes on New Year’s Day.
No cutting hair or fingernails during the first few days. Washing hair on the first day is also not a good idea.
No sweeping if you don’t want to brush off your fortunes.
Avoid talking about death or ghosts.
In China people stay away from gifting of sharp objects, clocks, shoes, pears, umbrellas or other taboo gifts as most of these objects have inauspicious meanings such as cutting luck, separation, betrayal or death. Gifting of oranges, candies, money (in red envelopes) in even numbers is more desirable. It also makes sense to avoid using knives on the New Year’s Day.
Remember, nothing goes out of the house on the first day of the year, absolutely nothing. Don’t so much as shake out a rug or take the empties to the recycle bin or you will be losing things during the upcoming year. If your trash needs emptying, do it before midnight or on January 2nd. If you have food or presents to take somewhere on New Year’s Day, leave them in your car trunk (where they can’t be seen) overnight or take it to their house before New Years.
And finally, the weather augur on New Year’s Day:
The direction of wind at sunrise on New Year morning prophesies about the coming year. A windless New Year’s Day indicates a dry summer whereas a decent breeze foretells a good summer rainfall. No wind means joy and prosperity throughout the year. Wind from the south foretells fine weather and prosperous times ahead while wind from the north foretells a bad year for weather. Wind blowing from the east foretells famine and natural calamities and wind from the west foretells plenty of milk and fish for all but the death of a person of great national importance. Floods will occur if the first day of the year is violently windy.
Now that we’ve armed ourselves with some of these superstitions and myths associated with the New Year, it’s time to enjoy this Annual Event. Go ahead, party, make some noise, eat well and have a Jolly Good Happy New Year!
Click to see: New Year’s Video