New Year traditions in Europe
European New Year
In Europe the custom of first-footing is practised. This is where the first person to enter the house after midnight must be male and is supposed to bring good luck to the household. The visitor is supposed to bring a gift such as money, bread, or coal, these are supposed to ensure the family will have plenty of these in the coming year. Throughout the world the custom of making noise to ring in the New Year has not gone untouched as this was supposed to scare off any evil spirits. Today any noise is used such as clackers, toy trumpets, whistles, and bells are party favors given to guests to use when the New Year has rung in. In Greece, and in particular in the northern area of Macedonia, church bells ring in the New Year. In Europre, the New Year was a time for superstition and fortune-telling.
In Austria 1691 Pope Innocent XII declared January 1 to be New Year’s Day. In Austria, New Year’s Eve is called Sylvesterabend which is the Eve of Saint Sylvester. They make a punch made of cinnamon, sugar, and red wine in honor of him. Taverns and inns are decorated with evergreen wreaths. Confetti, streamers, and champagne are also part of New Year’s Eve. Evil spirits of the old year are chased away by the firing of morters called boller. Midnight mass is attended and trumpets are blown from church towers at midnight. People exchange kisses. There are fireworks in larger cities.
In Belgium New Year’s Eve is called Sint Sylvester Vooranvond or Saint Sylvester Eve. The reveillon or New Year’s Eve family parties are thrown. At midnight everyone kisses, exchanges good luck greetings, and drinks toasts to absent relatives and friends. The cities, cafes, and restaurants are crowded with people who bid farewell to the Old Year.
In Britain the custom of first footing is practised. The first male visitor to the house after midnight is usually supposed to bring good luck. Usually they bring a gift like money, bread, or coal, which is done to ensure the family will have plenty of these things all the year to come. The first person must not be blond, red-haired or a woman as these people are supposedly bad luck.
In Denmark it is a good sign to find your door heaped with a pile of broken dishes at New Years. Old dishes are saved year around to throw them at the homes where their friends live on New Years Eve. Many broken dishes are a symbol that you have many friends. New Year’s Eve is framed by two important items broadcast on television and radio, respectively the Monarch’s New Year Speech at 6pm and the striking of midnight by the Town Hall Clock in Copenhagen, which marks the start of the New Year.
French New Year or Jour des Etrennes or Day of New Year’s Presents. In France dinner parties are thrown for the entire family. People exchange presents and greeting cards. People began sending fake gifts on April 1st which originally culminated in the New Year feast, of course these gifts were only as a joke on those who previously had received their etrennes or New Year’s gifts, on that day.
In Germany, on New Year’s Eve called Sylvester, people would drop molten lead into cold water and try to tell the future from the shape it made. A heart or ring shape meant a wedding, a ship a journey, and a pig plenty of food in the year ahead. People also would leave a bit of every food eaten on New Year’s Eve on their plate until after midnight as a way of ensuring a well-stocked larder. Carp was included as it was thought to bring wealth.
January 1 is an important date in Greece because it is not only the first day of the New Year but it is also Saint Basil’s Day. Saint Basil the Great was one the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church. He is remembered for his kindness and generosity to the poor. He is thought to have died on this date so this is how they honor him. New Year is perhaps even more festive and important than Christmas as it is the main day for gift-giving and for stories of Saint Basil’s kindness to children and the stories of how he would come in the night and leave gifts for the children in their shoes. Greeks have a Christian name that is the name of a religious figure or a Saint. On the religious calendar each day has a different feast and people celebrate their name-day accordingly. January 1st is Saint Basil’s Day which is the day for those named Vassilios and Vassiliki. On name-days and Saint Basil’s day people visit their friends and relatives and exchange gifts, not just for those whose name-day it was but also for those who’s name day it isn’t. On these visits they have a big feast of food, drinks and music. There are many special dishes that are prepared at New Year but the most important dish is Vassilopitta or Saint Basil’s cake, inside the cake is placed a silver or gold coin.
The Irish New Year festival is known as Samhain which meant summer ends and was celebrated on October 31. The festival has survived as halloween. It was at this time they hold their General Assembly. This was held in the out in the air parliament where the laws were renewed and accounts of events, details of births, deaths and marriages, were recorded.
In the Netherlands people burn Christmas trees on street bonfires and let off fireworks to ring in the New Year and as a way of driving out the spirits of the old year.
The Portugese pick and eat twelve grapes from a bunch as the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve. This is done to ensure twelve happy months in the coming year. In Northern Portugal children go caroling from home to home and are given treats and coins. They sing old songs or Janeiro’s which is said to bring good luck.
The traditions of the January’s New Year are connected with the old winter festivities of the Scandinavian norsemen. They used to involve time and light, and were thought to encourage the sun to return.
When the clock stricks midnight the Spanish eat 12 grapes one with every toll to bring good luck for 12 months for the New Year. Sometimes the grapes are washed down with wine. Theater productions and movies are interrupted to carry out this custom.
The Swedish New Year celebrations is no different than in most parts of the world. They drink champagne and watch fireworks and make New Year resolutions no one keeps. The Swedish go to church, go to smargasbords and drink spicy glogg.