The first few months of a new year always have a particularly fresh, anything-can-happen feel about them. But then, how we celebrate a new year is unlike any other holiday. New Year’s Eve has tended to be the noisiest holiday on the planet. In ancient Thailand, guns were fired to frighten off demons, while the Chinese shot off firecrackers to dispel the forces of darkness. Nowadays, fireworks lighting up the sky at midnight are de rigueur, with particularly impressive displays in Tokyo, London, Sydney and Dubai. Here in the U.S., we love to watch the ball drop in New York’s Times Square, not to mention the subsequent fireworks. In cities everywhere, there are parties … and the ringing of church bells, beating of drums, blasting of sirens and more. If it makes noise, chances are someone somewhere is doing it as the clock strikes 12:00.
But who first thought to celebrate the dawning of a new year anyway? For the answer, we must travel back about 4,000 years, when ancient Babylonians were whooping it up in March with an 11-day festival dedicated to the new year. By 46 B.C., Emperor Julius Caesar had moved the first day of the year to Jan. 1, in honor of the Roman god of beginnings, Janus.
Sparkling wine traditionally is used to toast the New Year the world over, but it’s not the only popular beverage. The British have long enjoyed wassail (a hot cider drink) at Christmas and New Year’s, or spiced ale or mulled wine. In Scotland, a favorite is the hot pint, made from boiling beer and then adding nutmeg, eggs, sugar and whiskey – oh, my. Estonians go for mulled wine or champagne, while the Dutch drink Gluhwein, aka bishops wine, or champagne.
Certain foods are thought to ensure a prosperous new year, so at midnight on New Year’s Eve in Costa Rica and Mexico, folks eat 12 grapes, one for each month of the coming year. Meanwhile in Portugal, they’re munching on 12 raisins – while Chileans consume lentils and 12 grapes (They’re not taking any chances).
Surprisingly, the color of undergarments is said to affect one’s fortunes in the coming year: On New Year’s Eve, wear red for good luck in Spain and China, but in Colombia it’s yellow for happiness and peace, and white in Puerto Rico for fertility and health.
In Singapore’s Marina Bay, 20,000 “wishing spheres,” covered with good wishes for the new year penned by citizens and visitors, are placed in the water. That evening, fireworks set to music brighten the sky.
Speaking of New Year’s wishes, that’s something Americans like to do, too. One Pennsylvania industry retailer, who wants to stay anonymous, offered a timely wish for world peace. And Ginnie Vaughan, general manager of retailer/builder National Pools of Roanoke, Va., shares her heartfelt wish: “I wish for my family and our company a healthy and prosperous 2016.”
May it be so for all of our readers, too.