New Year’s Day is the time to make resolutions — such as eating better and exercising more — typically in the hopes of a healthier, better you in the coming year.
If only you can survive New Year’s Eve.
Tonight, of course, we are tempted with the many perils of drinking too much, not to mention kissing lots of people in the middle of cold and flu season. But some of the New Year’s Eve rituals around the world, most of which are designed to bring luck, seem to be tempting fate.
In Denmark, one tradition says you should jump off some prominence (typically a chair) at the stroke of midnight and leap into the new year. Another Danish tradition: smashing old plates on the doorsteps of a friend or neighbor, leaving a pile of shattered china as a token of friendship and good luck.
Nothing is smashed at the doorstep in Scotland, but that country’s “first-footing” tradition says it’s good luck if the first visitor to cross the threshold in the new year is a dark-haired man bearing gifts of salt, bread, coal or whiskey. In Ireland, having a red-haired woman as the first visitor is considered unlucky.
Spaniards try to gobble down 12 grapes, one for each stroke of the clock at midnight, for luck in each of the 12 months ahead. It’s supposedly bad luck if you can’t get them all down. What’s Spanish for Heimlich maneuver?
Hoppin’ John, made with black-eyed peas and rice in the Southern United States, is among the many things eaten for luck on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. The peas symbolize money. Lentils, another coin-like food, are also eaten for New Year’s in many countries. Legumes are healthy, but maybe ease up on the ham hocks, bacon, sausage or pig’s trotters that are supposed to accompany them.
Other food eaten for luck includes soba in Japan, where the long noodles symbolize long life; biting through noodles is supposed to represent a break from the old year. Twelve servings of round fruits, evoking the shape of coins, are eaten in the Philippines. In China, it’s ingot-shaped dumplings. In Latvia and Greece, good luck will befall the person who gets the slice of New Year’s cake with a coin hidden inside.
There are a few traditions where food isn’t eaten, just abused in some way.
In Greece, folks smash a pomegranate on the doorstep. In Poland, they carry scales from the Christmas Eve carp dinner in their wallets. In Ireland, they bang the walls and doors with Christmas bread to scare away evil spirits. In Colombia they forecast the future by hiding three potatoes under the bed. Maybe that’s better than eating all those carbohydrates.
A New Year’s tradition in Germany and Finland calls for melting a chunk of tin or lead and then dropping the molten metal into cold water. The blob that forms when the metal cools and solidifies is then read to divine the fortunes of the year ahead. Molten metal. What could go wrong?
In southern Italy, tradition calls for bidding the ills of the old year goodbye by throwing old clothes, pots and pans, even appliances and furniture out of upstairs windows. In other places, they just hurl a bucket of water out onto the street. Helmets and raincoats advised.
Cold water figures in a lot of New Year’s traditions around the world.
There are polar plunges here in Minnesota, of course, but they’re also found in the Netherlands and Siberia. In some parts of Poland, you’re supposed to pour a bowl of icy water over yourself, ideally ending up with a silver coin that was sitting in the bowl now balanced on top of your head.
Things are more pleasant in Brazil, where it’s now summer and tradition calls for celebrating New Year’s by jumping over seven waves while making seven wishes.
In many Latin American countries, New Year’s revelers take care to wear underwear in a particular color (ideally new or a gift) on backward or inside out to increase luck. Depending on the location, yellow is supposed to bring prosperity, red luck love.
Fireworks are big in many countries on New Year’s Eve. So is simply setting stuff on fire, such as blazing effigies in Latin American countries, or whirling balls of flame in Scotland or burning paper with wishes written on them in Russia.
Finally from Bulgaria, the tradition called survakane calls for children to be armed with a decorated stick which they use to (gently) beat adults on the back to bring them luck. In exchange, the kids get some money.
It’s all fun and games until someone gets a stick in the eye.