The world gets goofy on New Year’s Eve
Eating black-eyed peas. Toasting with bubbly. Making resolutions we won’t keep. Isn’t there more than this to New Year’s Eve? Sure there is. Here’s a fractured look at some of the more, um, robust traditions around the world:
Times Square, New York: At 11:59 p.m. they drop the big crystal ball amidst revelry by a million or more people jammed into the square for hours, with lots of drinking and no apparent place to go to the bathroom. Did you ever wonder about that?
South Africa: In the Johannesburg suburb of Hillbrow, it’s customary to throw refrigerators, beds and trash bins out of tall buildings. And to set off fireworks horizontally, aimed at the windows of neighboring buildings.
Scotland: In a tradition called ‘‘fireball swinging,’’ locals fashion big balls out of chicken wire, tar, paper and other flammable materials, set them afire and walk through pedestrian-jammed streets swinging them on ropes.
Atlanta: They drop a peach. Wimps.
America: They sing ‘‘Auld Lang Syne’’ an arcane poem by Scotsman Robert Burns. Sure, you can handle the first verse. Now have three glasses of bubbly and try singing the third:
‘‘We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,’’
‘‘Frae morning sun till dine,’’
‘‘But seas between us braid hae roar’d,’’
‘‘Sin auld lang syne.’’
Philippines: Children jump up and down at midnight to make sure they will grow tall. Hours later, sensors warn of tsunami waves around the Pacific Rim.
Spain: They eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight. Those Spaniards know how to party, don’t they?
Greece: They make Saint Basil’s Cake, called Vasilopitta in Greek, hiding a gold coin inside. Whoever finds the coin has good luck in the coming year. Or breaks a tooth and sues.
The American South: They eat ‘‘Hoppin’ John’’ black-eyed peas and ham hocks for luck. If they were even luckier, they’d have caviar and champagne.
France: New Year’s Eve is celebrated with a feast called ‘‘Le Reveillon de Saint-Sylvestre’’ with champagne and foie gras, and a fancy ball called ‘‘une soiree dansante.’’ Face it. We’ll never be as cool as the French.
Ecuador: They see out the ‘‘Ano Viejo’’ by using wood, newspapers and rags to make human figures – often of disliked politicians, stuffing them with fireworks and setting them aflame. We call that an election campaign.
China: Tradition has it that a scary, man-eating beast, Nyan, used to skulk down from the mountains, infiltrate houses and do its worst to the inhabitants. Then they discovered the monster was sensitive to noise. Which explains the firecrackers, banging drums and such that make San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade audible from space. The next lunar new year, ushering in the Year of the Boar, falls on February 18.
Cambodia: In ‘‘Chab Kon Kleng,’’ a traditional New Year game, one player, the hen, tries to protect his chicks while another player, the crow, tries to catch them. In America, the game is called ‘‘lobbyists and special prosecutors.’’
Japan: Tradition is to pay off all debts and go into the New Year with a clean slate. This is how you can tell they’re not Americans.
Ireland: In a tradition called ‘‘First Footing,’’ if the first person to set foot in your door in the New Year is a dark-haired man, you’re in for good luck. But watch out if it’s someone whose eyebrows meet above his or her nose. This would seem to be good advice year-round.
Sources: Wikipedia and other web sites, some rock-solid, others possibly fanciful.