New Year’s Celebrations > around the world

At the stroke of midnight on Sunday night, tall flutes of sparkling champagne will be poured and sipped as people the world over toast the arrival of the New Year.

Kisses, hugs and well-wishes will be exchanged as colorful streamers and gold and silver confetti flutter in the air and fireworks illuminate the sky.

Starting from the east, the celebration of new beginnings will commence and continue till the clocks ring in 12 all over the globe. Different cultures usher in the New Year in different ways. Some gather to watch the famous glittering ball drop in New York City’s Times Square, while others will meet to watch the spectacular fireworks at Sydney harbor in Australia.

Although the celebrations and traditions may vary, the energy that’s sparked by New Year’s Eve will be present no matter where the party.

Beachfront in Brazil > More than 2 million people gather on candlelit Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a couple of hours before midnight on December 31.

Each will bring a bottle of champagne and most will wear white, says 24-year-old Shana Claudio, a public relations professional living in New York City. As a Brazilian native, no matter where Claudio has lived, each year she has gone back to her home country to ring in the New Year.

Although a few might deviate from white clothes, “mostly everyone wears white because people in Brazil are superstitious,” she explains. “They believe it will bring peace, happiness and health.”

Looking down from a balcony of the bordering Copacabana Palace hotel, the masses drawn together on the beach will look like “a sea of white.”

Underneath the white, it’s even traditional for women to wear different colored underwear depending on what they want in the coming year. For money, ladies choose yellow; for peace, white; and those longing for love will wear pink, Claudio says.

After a family dinner, people meet friends and walk together to Copacabana. Everyone usually gathers early because they know there will be hordes of people and nobody wants to miss the fireworks. The revelers sit on the beach drinking and talking or dancing while they wait.

People also buy white flowers from nearby sellers and step barefoot into the dark Atlantic, make a wish and throw the flowers into the ocean as an offering to Yemanja, goddess of the sea. And when the clock strikes midnight, everyone uncorks their bottles.

“You see the corks flying everywhere as white flowers wash up on the sand,” Claudio reminisces. “It’s really beautiful.”

After midnight and the fireworks, some take their shoes off, step into the water with their right foot and jump three waves for good luck, she says. Some also eat grapes and keep the seeds in their wallets for good luck, until they are replaced the following year.

The Rio New Year’s Eve is often a time spent with family; most parties don’t get started until after the clock strikes 12. People living in apartments bordering the beach will typically host parties and watch the fireworks from their apartment balconies. Others head to dance clubs after the beach.

“One of the big takeaways is that Rio’s not only this gorgeous metropolitan city, but there’s also tradition ingrained,” Claudio says. “Everyone has a lot of beliefs, and at the end of the day it’s about family and tradition, that’s what makes it really beautiful.”

Ushering In Shogatsu > Hours earlier, in the eastern half of the world, Tokyo will be one of the first cities to ring in the new year, literally. At midnight, crowds gather at the “watch-night bell” in Tokyo, which will be struck 108 times to rid people of the 108 earthly sins they are said to possess, according to Buddhist scriptures.

As the old year passes, the chimes and peals of temple bells reverberate all over Japan as millions of people line up to ring the bells to summon the New Year, says a 28-year-old Japan native who has been living in Manhattan for more than two years. The lines, she recalls, can be up to two hours long.

On the streets of Tokyo, people gather to watch dezomeshiki, a stunt-filled parade of the city’s firemen. Before calling in the New Year, the Japanese will spend the night of December 31, also called omisoka, watching Kohaku Uta Gassen, an annual televised music show.

Toward the end of the night, people eat buckwheat noodles called toshikoshi soba, also known as “year-crossing” noodles, for a prosperous and long life.

The New Year, or Shogatsu, is considered by many the most important holiday in Japan, and accordingly, preparations for the celebration begin weeks in advance: The Japanese clean their homes, put up rice-straw and bamboo decorations, send out New Year’s cards and hold bonenkai, or “year-forgetting,” parties.

On the first day of the year, many awake early to view the first sunrise, as it is traditionally considered the right way to start the year. During the day, people also visit temples and shrines to pray for a good and healthy year.

On the night of January 2, the Japanese go to sleep hoping to dream of Mt. Fuji, hawks or eggplants, as dreaming of these is considered an omen for a lucky year ahead. These are regarded as lucky because Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan, hawks fly high, and eggplants were highly priced in ancient Japan, when the tradition was first enacted.

During this time, Japanese children receive otoshidama, or little envelopes with pocket money, and celebrate by flying kites, spinning wooden tops and playing cards.

Locals feast on special New Year’s dishes called osechi, consisting of yellow fish eggs marinated in a dashi, sake and soy-sauce broth; sweet black beans; and umami-rich kombu rolls stuffed with salmon and simmered in dashi, mirin, sugar and soy sauce.

Japanese businesses remain closed through January 3, and the “whole city is very quiet” for the first three days of the year, the native says. As the days are said to be representative of the year to come, people generally gather with family and friends and spend the time in tranquil celebration.

Wherever your New Year’s Eve is spent, it will be a memorable night of festivities with family and friends, in which everyone can rejoice in the year past and look forward to a new beginning. Happy New 2007 everyone!

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