Año Nuevo! New Year’s Celebrations Transcend Cultures

The anticipation builds up, with only a short time left in an old year. The music from a large block party blares, the smell of roasted pork fills the air and the countdown begins, cinco, cuatro, tres, dos, uno … ¡Año Nuevo!

Though folks from the South have plenty of New Year’s traditions and superstitions such as cooking black-eyed peas, eating collards and refraining from washing clothes, area residents with Latino backgrounds know how to welcome 2007 as well.

According to Angier resident Alex Jimenez, a native of the southern portion of Mexico, Hispanic culture celebrates New Year’s Eve with the same vigor as America, though traditions are different.

“Down there everyone goes out and has a party,” Ms. Jimenez said. “Everyone hears your music and you hear everyone else’s music and everyone is out dancing in the street.”

She said in America, where parties rarely grow larger than extended family and friends, it’s hard to understand the block-wide celebrations.

“Here, the people don’t go out because it’s so different,” she said. “In Mexico everyone is a family. All of the people are more together.”

Ms. Jimenez said one more New Year’s practice transcends the Rio Grande, and is common in Southern culture as well as southern Mexico.

“There is something they will do for sure, at 12 o’clock that night they will shoot guns into the sky,” she said.

Eddie Hernandez, manager of the Angier International Market, has been in town for about two years. He said in his homeland of the Dominican Republic, many people celebrate New Year’s in the same way they would in America, but with more zest.

“Most of the people, after dinner they go to a night club,” he said. “Some stay home, blow off fireworks and drink a lot of beer.”

Alfonso Cumes is from Tecpan Chimaltenago, Guatemala, and works at MiCasita in Dunn. He said New Year’s celebrations there lean heavily on Catholic and Mayan traditions.

“In the traditionally Mayan areas people gather at the pyramids and Mayan priests burn incense and conduct Mayan ceremonies,” he said. “All over the country they have parades where they carry images from the church, images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, San Jan and San Pedro, whoever the local saints are.”

In Costa Rica the celebration lasts for more than one night and is much more intense than the American favorite of Times Square.

“We start celebrating around December 16,” said Vanessa Gomez Soles of Dunn, originally from Zapote, Costa Rica. “We have three parades during that time, one called El Carnival, one called El Tope, and another called El Destile de Luces.

“El Carnival is like a carnival, and El Tope is a parade of horses,” she said. “In it the most beautiful women dress like Spanish ladies and they decorate their horses with braids in their hair and they pull beautiful carriages. El Destile de Luces is the most beautiful, though,” she said. “It’s at night and all the big companies decorate their trucks with lights.”

Costa Rica also celebrates the end of the year with a tradition brought over by the Spanish bullfights.

“It’s very beautiful, very elegant,” Mrs. Soles said. “But we don’t kill the bull. Another thing people do is called Las Corridas. Everybody gathers in La Plaza de Torros and they let the bull run free. They run around the bull and it chases everybody. Every year they do it and people get hurt, but they do it every year.”

Food > Latino New Year’s celebrations are all culinary events, but foods differ from place to place, according to Ms. Jimenez.

“The same way America does their different types of food, as far as the North and the South, it’s like that in Mexico too,” she said. “They try to do some sort of meat, as far as lamb or pork. Or steamed beef.”

She said in the southern part of the country, where she is from, tamalés are a popular dish. In central and northern regions of the country, pasolé, a dish made with hominy and chicken or pork, is a more traditional New Year’s dish.

Beverages are also an important part of the yearly tradition in Southern Mexico. Atole, a warm drink consisting of chocolate and corn pudding, is popular. A drink is made from guava, sugar cane, apples, pineapple and dried plums. Ms. Jimenez said a little alcohol is sometimes also added to spice things up.

Sol Osorio of Lillington is originally from Caguas, Puerto Rico. She said New Year’s in her country is a time of celebration with friends, family and food.

“We used to have fireworks, but this year the government outlawed fireworks,” she said. “But that’s always been a big tradition. Then, after fireworks we eat asopao. It’s like a chicken stew,” she said. “You can’t miss with it. After 12 everybody kisses everybody, and you know the asopao is coming.”

One of the most enjoyable traditions, Ms. Osorio said, was “Las Parrandas.” To understand what Las Parrandas are, think of a cross between festive Christmas caroling with bongos, guitars and other local instruments, and a roving block party.

“They start around December 1, but we really do it at New Year’s,” she said. “You go from house to house singing and every house has food and you eat. And every house has ‘coquito,’ a rum and coconut drink and a lot spices.” “And then there’s arroz con dulce, it’s like a rice pudding. You can’t forget that,” she said. “It’s a traditional food.”

Superstitions > As in American culture, Latinos have several superstitions meant to bring good luck or prevent bad fortune in the coming months.

“Some of the people, what they do is they take all their luggage and carry it around the house – for more travels,” said Mr. Hernandez of the Dominican Republic. “Some people, they clean everything and throw away all the old stuff, so they will get new things in the new year.”

Love and prosperity are also common themes for New Year’s superstitions. “People wear red clothes and red pants to find some new love in the new year,” Mr. Hernandez said. “Some people eat 12 grapes at 12 o’clock, and make 12 wishes.”

Irma Salas, who co-owns Universal Wireless in Angier with her husband Mario, is from the Zacatecas region of Mexico, south of Mexico City. She said Mexican tradition holds many of the same superstitions.

“You have to eat the grapes in less than a minute,” she said. “We wear new clothes; anything we wear has to be new.” She said whatever you are doing to bring in the New Year is how you will spend the rest of your year. It’s how your year is going to be,” she said. “If you are working that day, you will be working for the rest of the year.”

Mrs. Soles said people in Costa Rica also have traditions they celebrate on New Year’s and New Year’s Eve to bring good luck, travel, and putting the old year behind them.

“Some people take water and put it in a pan and then throw it over their shoulder,” she said. “That means all the bad things of the year are behind you.” “Another thing people do is cross the street with their suitcases,” she said. “That means you’ll travel in the next year.

Yellow Underwear > “But there is one thing people do that is kind of funny,” she said laughing. “On New Year’s day, they wear yellow underwear for good luck.”

Ms. Jimenez said in Mexico, New Year’s isn’t the end of the holiday celebrations; there is still another day to look forward to. Los Tres Reyes, literally meaning “the three kings,” celebrates the gifts brought to Jesus by the wise men, nearly two weeks after American Christmas is long gone.

“Christmas is not actually a time to give gifts to the children,” she said. “The children actually receive gifts on the fifth night of January, so when they wake up on January 6 they get gifts.”

Ms. Osorio said in Puerto Rico the celebration can go on even longer. “Christmas in Puerto Rico doesn’t end on December 25,” she said. “We celebrate Tres Reyes and then it goes eight more days after that called Las Octavitas. That ends with more parrandas (music and parties) and more food. “When it’s all over, you need vacation,” she said, laughing.

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4 Responses to “Año Nuevo! New Year’s Celebrations Transcend Cultures”

  1. nelly

    I think the artical is really great

  2. grhomeboy

    Thank you Nelly, have a great New Year!

  3. Rick

    Great article; I gave it to the students in Spanish class. It provides a good, brief overview while also discussing the variety of celebrations in many Hispanic countries. Thanks.

  4. hannah

    this really helped me in my spanish project

    thank you