You’d most likely be from another planet, or a remote part of the world, untouched by modern society, if you didn’t know that today is New Year’s Eve!
So, here’s a little history lesson about some of the New Year’s Eve customs celebrated in the UK, as well as some quite odd ones around the world:
In England, clocks symbolise the transition that occurs at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.
The celebration in London focuses on Big Ben, the bell, and by association, the clock housed in the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster.
Other major New Year events are held in the cities of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Newcastle.
Bideford, in north Devon, is also known for its New Year’s Eve celebrations, featuring a carnival and fancy dress. The celebration centres on Bideford’s quayside and around its Old Bridge, with a lone piper playing Auld Lang Syne at midnight, followed by a fireworks display.
In Yorkshire, people say ‘Black rabbits, black rabbits, black rabbits’ in the closing seconds of the old year. Then they say, ‘White rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits,’ as their first utterance of the New Year. This is suppose to bring good luck.
Many people see the old year out with a party, welcoming in the New Year with toasts of champagne, and exchanging good wishes for a ‘Happy New Year’.
As the clock – Big Ben – strikes midnight, people all over the UK cross their arms across their chests and link hands with everyone close by them. They sing a song called ‘Auld Lang Syne’ reminding them of old and new friends.
It is traditional to stay up and see the old year out. Its exit is usually noisy.
Here’s how the Scots do it:
New Year’s Eve is a major celebration, which the Scots call Hogmanay. One reason for this is because their main winter festival is because Christmas was banned by the church in the 1500s.
The first person to enter a house after midnight on New Year’s Eve is believed to affect the household’s fortunes in the year to come.
Ideally a dark-haired man who carries a gift, usually a piece of coal or food such as black bun, is welcome. This will bring good luck for the next year as the gift symbolises prosperity.
Someone with fair hair and female is considered to bring bad luck.
Of course, food and drink is also offered to the first-footer and visits like this can go on until the wee small hours.
We’ve all heard of spring-cleaning, but many people also believe that a clean house is a necessary to welcome in the new year.
To begin one otherwise is considered bad luck. A tidy-up prior to any festive parties doesn’t go amiss.
When open fires were common, clearing the ashes and laying a new fire for a new year was a good sign. So too, was the burning of juniper which was believed to ward off any evil spirits.
Cleaning the house also extends to clearing the debts and paying bills for those fortunate enough to be able to do so. Perhaps the less said about over-spending at Christmas the better.
Stonehaven heralds January the 1st with fireballs.
A procession of around 40 people swing balls of burning material by wire or chains around their head.
The weight of the ball and chain means that it takes considerable strength to swing each ball.
Making their way along High Street, past Mercat Cross, before returning to the harbour where the fireballs are thrown into the sea. Crowds gather to witness this unique spectacle.
Kirkwall is the place to see the Uppies and Doonies take to the streets for the Ba’ game on New Year’s Day.
The leather ball is thrown into the crowd at 1pm, and the rush to find it and pass it to the team begins.
There are dozens of people in each team, depending on which side of town you were born in, or where your family loyalty lies.
The game can go on for hours before the victors are announced.
A substantial amount of resolve, stamina and willpower are required for participation in the Loony Dook. These brave swimmers take to the waters at South Queensferry in the name of charity.
Back on dry land, Biggar has its Hogmanay bonfire.
Although Edinburgh is renowned for its celebrations, which last for several days, other areas observe the beginning of a new year in their own way.
Up Helly Aa
Not strictly Hogmanay related but worth a mention is Up Helly Aa.
Held in Shetland in January to celebrate Viking heritage, this is worth seeing.
A torchlit procession by the Jarl squad in Viking dress, led by the year’s nominated chief, known as the Guizer Jarl, ends with the torches being thrown onto the replica longship which burns.
And here are some rather odd traditions celebrated in other countries:
In Spain, The Twelve Grapes is a tradition that dates back to around 1895, but became established in 1909. In December that year, vine growers in Alicante popularised the custom to sell larger amounts of grapes from a good harvest.
The tradition consists of eating a grape with each bell strike at midnight on 31 December, to encourage a year of prosperity. In some areas, the custom is believed to ward away evil.
In Ecuador, at the stroke of midnight, effigies are lit in the tradition of the burning of the “año viejo” – the old year. It marks the symbolic cleansing of any negatives of the previous year and for extra good luck, some even jump the flames 12 times for each month.
The tradition is said to date back to an 1895 yellow fever epidemic, as the bodies of victims were burned.
In Denmark, friends and neighbours smash plates and leave them outside front doors as a sign of affection and to ward off bad spirits for the New Year. It is a measure of popularity to find a pile of broken crockery outside your front door.
The Danes also prepare an evening meal on New Year’s Eve, which ends with a cone-shaped cake known as a Kransekage, decorated with flags and fire crackers.
In Russia, New Year’s Eve is significant, as under Communist rule in the 20th century, religious holidays – including Christmas – were banned. The New Year was a non-religious substitute for the seasonal celebrations and it continues to be popular to this day.
One custom is to write a new year wish on a piece of paper, set it alight and drop the ashes into your champagne glass – and then drink the contents.
In Romania, a tradition in rural parts is to wear bear costumes or animal furs and to dance in the street to ward off evil. According to the Associated Press, people in urban areas are increasingly adopting the custom, as the economic downturn in the country pushes performers in the cities to dance for money.
In Chile, within several communities, including the city of Talca, people celebrate the New Year with their deceased family members by holding candlelit ceremonies in graveyards. Midnight masses are held every year, to include all family members in the celebrations.
In Japan, they have a custom of sending New Year’s Day cards, called nengajo, to their friends and relatives – in a tradition similar to the western custom of sending Christmas cards. Originally, the tradition existed for families and friends living far apart to send their greetings.
It is customary not to send the cards when one has had a death in the family during the year. In this case, a family member sends a “mourning postcard”, a mochū hagaki, to inform friends and relatives they should not send New Year’s cards out of respect for the deceased.
In Finland, on New Year’s Eve, it is customary for the Finnish to carry out molybdomancy, a technique of divination using molten metal. Tin is melted on a stove and dropped into water, and the resulting shape is interpreted as an omen for the future, or is rotated in candlelight to create shadows which are interpreted.
Finnish shops sell small bullions in the shape of a horseshoe for this tradition. A bubbly surface is said to refer to money, while a fragile or broken shape represents misfortune.
In Belarus, a popular game is played to decipher which women will marry first. Each woman sits in front of a pile of corn and a rooster is placed in the middle. Whoever’s corn the rooster chooses is said to be the first to wed.
How do you ring in the New Year? Let us know in the comments!
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