Though some cultures celebrate the New Year in late winter or early spring, most nations celebrate January 1st as the first day of the New Year. You can thank Emperor Julius Caesar, since January was named after the two faced Roman God Janus, and Caesar felt this symbolized transition from one year to the next. William the Conqueror also wanted January 1st to mark the New Year, as it coincided with his coronation, but it wasn’t until 1582 that Pope Gregory established the modern Gregorian calendar, and January 1st took firm root as the mark of the New Year.
Which brings us to the question of how to celebrate! Sure, you could freeze your tail off with thousand of other revelers in New York’s Times Square, or curl up at home in your pajamas and observe the traditional ball drop on TV. But if you want to shake up your holiday traditions, here are a few ideas from around the world!
Those fun-loving Scots call New Years Eve Hogomanay, or Night of the Candle. They clean their homes (not fun!), eat traditional foods such as Haggis (questionable fun?) and drink whiskey and wine (now that’s better!) and hope that the “First Footer” to come through their doorway after midnight is a handsome dark haired man bearing gifts to symbolize a coming pleasant year ( who can argue with that?) Often a straw figure known as the “Auld Wife” or a barrel of tar is set on fire to symbolize the end of the old year. And of course people gather to sing the traditional New Year song Auld Lang Syne, which as you may have guessed, originated in Scotland.
Don’t feel like wearing your woolies? Head to Brazil! Pack your bathing suit, because January is summertime in Brazil, and Vespera de Ano Novo is often celebrated at the beach, where people gather to offer flowers and gifts to Iemanja, the Goddess of Water. Floating candles and revelers wearing white add to the beauty of the landscape. Brazilian fishermen believe the New Year’s catch portends the fortune for the rest of the year. But don’t worry if you’re not a fish person, as the traditional holiday fare is lentils and rice, along with a tapioca dish called Farofa.
After a month of Bonenkai (“forget the year”) parties to bid goodbye to the year and all its problems, folks in Japan are ready to forgive grudges, and houses are scrubbed (again with the cleaning!?!) in preparation for the new beginning. New Years is considered the most important holiday of the year. Buckwheat soba noodles are served to symbolize longevity, homes are decorated with ornaments made from bamboo and plum trees, and a visit to a shrine such as Tokyo’s Meijii Jingu is in order. At midnight on December 31st Buddhist temples bang their gongs 108 times to expel 108 types of human weakness.