As you prepare to welcome 2011 in your favourite way – perhaps by popping open a bottle of the bubbly, attending a “first night” celebration or watching the ball drop when the clock strikes midnight – learn how folks in countries all over the world welcome in the new year.
In Germany and in Austria, it’s a common custom to celebrate the new year by trying to sneak a peek into what the future holds with a practice called Bleigießen or Bleigiessen. This tradition, translated as “lead pouring” involves melting lead in a spoon, then pouring it into a receptacle of cold water and interpreting the resulting shapes. What is seen is supposed to indicate what the year will hold. If the lead forms a ball, you’re in luck; if it forms a ring, there’s love in the air. Shapes can be interpreted as either good signs or foreboding ones. Another tradition is to not clear the table before midnight; leaving a little food on the plate is said to ensure plenty in the coming year.
In Denmark, dishes hold an entirely different place in an unusual, time-honoured New Year’s tradition. Old plates are put aside throughout the year, saved for smashing on the doorsteps of dear friends. The more broken dishes that adorn your threshold, the better, as this is representative of the friendships and positive relationships you will enjoy in the coming year.
In Peru, traditions meant to invite good fortune for the coming year abound. These include the custom called baño de flores (bath of flowers), in which a bath is drawn and flowers of a particular colour are added; the specific colour can bring the bather luck, money, love or other prosperities in the coming year. Similarly, the use of colour to attract good fortune also applies to a tradition practiced in certain South American countries; sporting new garb, particularly yellow undergarments, is thought to bring good luck. Other Peruvian traditions include throwing coins to cast away poverty, and creating muñecos, which are effigies burned to symbolically get rid of misfortunes that occurred in the previous year. Eating a dozen grapes as the clock strikes midnight is also an omen of good luck practiced in several other countries including Spain.
Scotland contributes its own interesting New Year’s traditions. The holiday, known as Hogmanay, is welcomed with plenty of merriment and intriguing traditions like “first footing” and “fire swinging.” According to the tradition of “first footing,” for good fortune to follow in the new year, the first person to enter a home after midnight should be a man – ideally “tall, dark and handsome” – and he should also bear a present meant to bring prosperity to the household such as salt or another traditional item. It is considered a bad omen if the first person to enter a home is a woman with blonde or red hair. Fireball Swinging is a tradition prominent in Stonehaven, Scotland. Celebrants create “fireballs,” usually out of materials such as chicken wire, paper or tar, which they ignite and swing in the air to signify the sun and chase away, or burn up, bad fortune from the previous year, making way for good luck in the new year.
However you celebrate, join your neighbours around the world and have a Happy New Year.