Happy New Year

New Year, New Beginnings

By Alison Bruce

New Year's Day is a time for new beginnings. The mistakes of the past are set aside and resolutions are made for the future.

I'm not a big one for resolutions. For instance, you will never find me resolving to cut back on terrible puns, like the visual one above. On the other hand, I do enjoy the feeling of a fresh start. New Year's Day is like a new dawn squared, which is maybe why we gather in them (Times Square, Trafalgar Square) to watch the ball drop (or orange if you're in Florida) and ring in the new year. It feels so good, why stop at one? There are plenty to choose from throughout the year.

Making a fresh start is traditional.  As you read this, it's too late to clean house and purify it by burning juniper before the New Years. Cleaning house and settling debts is a common tradition as is ringing bells, setting off fireworks and generally making a lot of noise. The turning of the year was considered a very dangerous time because the barriers between life and afterlife are supposed to be thin. Fortunately, evil spirits hate loud noises. We might not quite believe that anymore, but the tradition carries on.

We don't just want to be safe though. We want to be lucky. In England and Scotland, that means making  sure the first person to step through your door is a dark-haired man. He should be carrying a small piece of coal, money, bread, and salt. These are the symbols of wealth.

In Brazil (and also China) lentils and rice are considered lucky. I certainly believe rice is lucky. It helps settle the stomach after eating and drinking too much the night before.

In addition to rice and lentils, orange blossoms, tangerines, kumquats, and the colour red are very lucky for Chinese New Year. Put out dishes of fruit and candy for guests, but always give tangerines in pairs. Odd numbers are unlucky. I love Chinese New Year. People of all religions can celebrate it. I love the food. And it lasts fourteen days. That makes it much easier to plan parties with family and friends in manageable numbers. Because they calculate their months differently, Chinese New Year (as with the Jewish, and Islamic New Years) moves around relative to our calendar. January 1 isn't our last to set our luck for the year.

Many ancient cultures celebrated the New Year in spring. The Babylonians celebrated the coming of the spring rains which would allow their crops to grow. The Ancient Greeks celebrated the spring by sacrificing a lamb and giving eggs, symbols of fertility--traditions that live on in Easter celebrations.

Others cultures, like the Celts, celebrated the end of the year in fall. Our Hallowe'en traditions come from the festivities and spirit scaring activities of Samhain.

The Aztecs celebrated around the time of the Summer Solstice. Romans celebrated the new year with the Winter Solstice. Except for the moveable holidays based on a lunar calendar, the solstices and equinoxes give or take a few weeks with the Gregorian Calendar, were picked to mark the new year in most ancient cultures. That's a fresh start every quarter.

So, welcome to 2014. Happy New Year! I'll be wishing you that again on January 31 for the beginning of the Year of the Horse, 4712.


  1. Love the research on how other cultures celebrate the new year! I celebrate it by making impossibly resolutions, and then laughing about the ones I made last year. It's all about tradition, right?

    1. I used to do that - make impossible to keep resolutions - then for a couple of years I forgot. After that, not making New Year's resolutions became a tradition.

  2. I usually resolve to try new things--for instance, try a new recipe once a week. Great article, Alison!


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