new years eve
new years eve

Party or ponder? It’s New Year’s Eve

Riley Riley

Around the world people are preparing to celebrate New Year’s Eve, the end of one year and the beginning of another.

For most, it’s been another year of turmoil as the battle against COVID drags on.

Just when it looks like we’ve got it licked — it comes back stronger than ever.

It’s not the first time humanity has been threatened.

A couple of world wars come to mind.

But this is a different kind of enemy, one that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

If nothing else, the pandemic is a wakeup call — a warning there will be consequences.

At some point, we have to get serious about climate change — hopefully before it’s too late.

I worry for my children and grandchildren.

Perhaps as the clock strikes 12 we should reflect upon this?

Of course, due to the fact the world is divided into many time zones, New Year’s Eve is celebrated at different times and on different days around the world.

Time changes by plus or minus 60 minutes with every 15 degrees west or east of the Prime Meridian (zero degrees longitude).

But the borders are not exact and deviate to reflect national and international boundaries.

Being close to the international date line, many people point to Australia’s Sydney Harbour fireworks display as the beginning of New Year celebrations.

Beating us to the punch however are the island nations of Tonga, Samoa, and Kiribati.

New Zealand follows next in the celebrations, followed by Australia, Japan, and South Korea.

Last but not least is Baker Island, a small atoll in the South Pacific owned by the US, a wildlife refuge that is home to endangered sea turtles.

Other countries and cultures celebrate the New Year at different times like Chinese New Year, which is celebrated between January 21 and February depending on the new moon of the first month of the lunar month.

Rosh Hashanah, is celebrated on the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, Hijri New Year celebrated in the first day of the Islamic calendar, and the Ethiopian New Year.

Others include the Korean Seollal, Balinese Nyepi, Iranian Nowruz, Sri Lankan Puthandu and Hindu Diwali.

New Year was first celebrated on January 1 in 153 BCE in Rome by the civil Roman calendar, which marked the beginning of tenure for new Roman consuls.

The celebration was not strictly adhered to however as many Romans still celebrated new year on March 1.

In 46 BCE Julius Caesar started using a solar-based calendar which marked January 1 as the first day of the New Year and was widely observed in the Roman Empire.

In medieval Europe, January 1 was briefly abolished as the New Year, as it was considered a pagan holiday.

It was later restored as New Year following the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582.

Celebrations take different forms around the world.

In Saudi Arabia the fun police have put a stop to festivities.

As the Islamic calendar is the official calendar, the religious police (Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice) enforce a ban on public festivities to celebrate the Gregorian New Year.

Shops can be fined for offering New Year’s-related products and these can be confiscated — but by and large the organisation does not pursue individuals for holding private celebrations.

Other countries welcome the New Year with sometimes odd customs:

  • South Sudan – people attend church services and at the stroke of midnight, people sing the famous carol, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” to mark the end and beginning of the year with a blessing.
  • South Africa – people vote for their favourite top 10 songs with a countdown that culminates in the #1 song being played on all radio stations.
  • Mexico – they celebrate by eating a grape with each of the 12 chimes of a clock’s bell during the midnight countdown, while making a wish with each one. Families decorate homes and parties in colors that represent wishes for the upcoming year: red encourages an overall improvement of lifestyle and love, yellow encourages blessings of improved employment conditions, green for improved financial circumstances, and white for improved health. Another tradition is to make a list of all the bad or unhappy events over the past 12 months then throw the list is thrown into a fire, symbolising the removal of negative energy from the new year.
  • Chile – they wear yellow underwear and clothing which is said to restore vitality to your life. People who want to travel walk the streets with a suitcase, others hold money in their hand or place coins at their door for good fortune.
  • El Salvador – fireworks are lit along with thousands of life-size effigies called “Año Viejo”. They represent things you disliked from the previous year and are made to look like famous celebrities, politicians, public servants, cartoons, etc. Some braver people jump through these burning effigies 12 times to represent a wish for every month.
  • Mongolia – they began celebrating the Gregorian New Year in the Socialist period where it is common for the national anthem to be played at midnight on television.
  • Philippines – people make loud noises by blowing on cardboard or plastic horns, called torotot, banging on pots and pans, playing loud music, blowing car horns, or by igniting firecrackers, in the belief that the din scares away bad luck and evil spirits. Bamboo cannons are also fired on the night in some places.
  • Belgium – farmers wish their animals a happy New Year.
  • Estonia – they believe that people should eat seven, nine, or 12 times on New Year’s Eve. These are lucky numbers and it is believed that for each meal consumed, the person gains the strength of that many men the following year. Meals should not be completely finished—some food should be left for ancestors and spirits who visit the house on New Year’s Eve.
  • Finland – there’s a tradition called molybdomancy where they tell the fortunes of the New Year by melting “tin” (actually lead) in a tiny pan on the stove and throwing it quickly in a bucket of cold water. The resulting blob of metal is analyzed, for example by interpreting shadows it casts by candlelight. These predictions are however never taken seriously.
  • Germany – broadcasting the British comedy sketch Dinner for One has become a tradition. Although relatively unknown in the United Kingdom, the version traditionally broadcast was originally recorded in 1963 and used occasionally as filler programming due to popular demand. The sketch and its catchphrase “the same procedure as every year”, are well known in German pop culture.
  • Hungary – in past centuries, some Hungarians believed that animals were able to speak on New Year’s Eve and that onion skins sprinkled with salt could indicate a rainy month.
  •  Poland – in the village of Sławatycze, people tour the streets dressed up as bearded men.
  • Portugal – New Year celebrations are taken seriously. The tradition is to drink champagne and eat 12 raisins, one for each month of the year — making a wish for each.
  • Russia – the Soviet film The Irony of Fate set during New Year celebrations is a staple in former Soviet countries and is often broadcast by Russian television on New Year’s Eve, so much so that it has been compared to the traditional broadcast of It’s a Wonderful Life in the United States.
  • Spain – it’s traditional to eat 12 Grapes, one for each chime of the clock. This tradition has its origins in 1909 when grape growers in Alicante suggested it as a way to cut down on the large production surplus they had had that year. Nowadays, the tradition is followed by almost every Spaniard, and the 12 grapes have become synonymous with the New Year.
  • Sweden – TV show BingoLotto features a special New Year’s Eve edition to commemorate the holiday with guest musicians, four bingo games, and surprises.
  • Scotland – New Year’s (Hogmanay) is celebrated with several different customs, such as First-Footing, which involves friends or family members going to each other’s houses with a gift of whisky and sometimes a lump of coal.


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