Greek-American Stories: New Year Celebrations Around the World

Not everyone around the world celebrates the coming holidays in the same way. Here, on the East Coast, New Year’s Eve is celebrated with parties, dancing, and some brave people traveling to New York, in all kinds of weather, to watch the crystal ball fall hoping no pickpocket is beside them. Others have house parties where eating and drinking with friends and relatives are planned way in advance.

But, let’s look over the fence into other people’s yards to learn what goes on there, like in Germany, where a lucky pig is made of marzipan. They call it ‘glucksshwein’. In German, the phrase ‘Schwein haben’, means to ‘have a pig’ – a sign of prosperity. It’s a token that’s supposed to bring good luck. In Ireland, women who wish to marry in the New Year place sprigs of mistletoe under their pillows on New Year’s Eve, hoping it brings them a husband and banishes the bad luck, too. What they don’t know is that that’s the combination they’ll probably get. I hope they know the difference between mistletoe and poison ivy.

In the Netherlands, women bake donuts called, ’oliebiollen’. Batter is rolled into small balls, then deep fried in hot oil and dusted with powdered sugar. With these treats champagne is served at midnight. In Denmark, many indulge in a sweet called ‘kransekage’. It’s a tall, cone-shaped cake decorated with candy, firecrackers, or small flags. After consuming a slice, the daring Danish have been known to throw dishes on their neighbors’ doorsteps at midnight to guarantee their friendship in the New Year. I don’t know about you but I’d never speak to them again if they didn’t clean up the mess by morning. Gee! At least, the Greeks don’t wait to break dishes just on New Year’s Eve. I hear they break dishes at night clubs all year round. I just hope it’s done after eating. In Finland, the traditional celebration includes ‘molybdomancy’, telling fortunes by melting a spoonful of lead over a candle and then tossing it into a bowl of cold water to harden. Then, the glob is studied by candlelight to analyze what the future will bring. You figure that out. I guess it’s like Greeks reading coffee cups.

Meanwhile, in Belarus, the women sit around a table, each with a pile of corn in front of them. And, then, a rooster is placed among them. That rooster is expected to choose the pile of corn that indicates who will be married next. If I got married and it didn’t turn out right, that rooster would be, ‘pot luck’. In Puerto Rico, people clean their houses to, ‘wash away the old’ and then, toss buckets of water out their window. Look out below! In Scotland, ever since the days of the Vikings, people celebrate the festival of ‘Hogmanay’ on December 31st. Then, a parade of men swing blazing balls of fire over their heads to bring purification and sunshine into the New Year. I think that’s being a little, ’hot headed’. In Spain, you prepare a bowl of green grapes and wear red underwear to celebrate the New Year properly. Then, revelers gather in Puerta del Sol or watch on TV as the clock strikes 12 times, once for each month, while fast popping a grape for each month while wearing red underwear given to them by a relative or friend who wishes them good luck. (Or, maybe it’s a way of getting rid of the unwanted garment!)

How did all these traditions start? Probably, unemployment or excessive drinking. So, this New Years eve, look around. You never know whose tradition will hit you. Depends on who lives next door. Traditions range from eating sumptuous sweets to dropping stuff. Me? I’ll stay at home and watch the Times Square ball, a tradition that started in 1907. (I wasn’t around then, in case you wondered.) Then, after the obligatory kiss for hubby, I’ll call my kids and wish them a very happy, healthy new year and then, after kissing both cats, Sissy and Lucy Bella, I’ll do my own version of tradition by grabbing a coin and work on my scratch-offs and go to bed – unless I win! That’s when I’ll toast the New Year with more enthusiasm. Of course, there’s the Vasilopita in the morning – with hot coffee. Oh! If I get the coin, I’ll get more scratch-offs!



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