new year feature

10 Traditions, Rituals, or Customs for New Year’s Day


My apologies for not knowing where I heard this following comment, but it sums up what I would think are many people’s opinions of New Year’s Eve: “I don’t understand the big deal for New Year’s Eve… it’s a one-second holiday.”

I think it was from a sitcom.

Wherever it was from, I can relate because after the “ball drops” or the countdown is over, that’s pretty much it. It becomes 12:01 a.m., and everyone goes home (or at least they should).

This has always made New Year’s Day to be a bit, well, anti-climatic. Some people sleep through half of it, others cook up some black-eyed peas for good luck, and still others watch a football game or parade. In other words, this can be any given weekend.

There are also the resolutions, but those don’t count. Do they ever?

To be completely honest, New Year’s has always been a little depressing to me, especially with the popular attitude that each new year will be as bad as—or worse—than the last.

No. We need to make sure we have fun on New Year’s Day as well.

We need to find some way to make January 1 more fun. Obviously, New Year’s Day is at different times of year in different countries, but for convenience, we’ll stick to the Julian calendar version.

After doing a little web searching, from sites like Atlas Obscura to Good Housekeeping to Better Homes and Garden, I found ten fun ways people celebrate New Year’s Day (not Eve):

1. Picking out some colorful underpants is something popular in some Latin American countries as well as Italy. The color of your undies can help determine your New Year’s future. Red can mean love, yellow can be good luck, or white can be peace. Red is popular in Italy for those wanting to have children in the next year, as it can mean fertility.

2. New Year’s morning in Greece can be fun if you wake up your children by bonking them on the head with an onion. Not just any onion but onions that were hung on the door during New Year’s Eve to help bring growth in the next year.

3. More than one site I looked at talked about the “first footer” New Year’s Day tradition in Scotland. Make sure the first person to cross over your front door is a tall dark-haired man, as they can help bring good fortune to the home. Of course, this “good fortune” could come in the form of the customary New Year’s gifts of whiskey, shortbread, coal, and salt.

4. According to the readers of Atlas Obscura, there are plenty of people who take “washing out” the old year seriously. In Cuba, you toss a bucket of water out the door on New Year’s to clean out the old negative energy.

5. On the flip side, some people have a superstition not to wash clothes on New Year’s Day. Washing clothes on January 1 may mean washing for a funeral later that year.

From what you eat, what you wear, who visits your home first, or whether you plunge into or toss out water, there are plenty of ways to celebrate New Year’s Day. Image collages: Lisa Tate

6. One ritual people in cold areas have done at least since the early 1900s is taking a dip in a freezing cold ocean, lake, or pool—the “Polar Bear Plunge.” This tradition is something many now do for charitable fundraising purposes as well as for chilly fun.

7. One tradition in Germany is the purchasing of a new good luck charm on or before the New Year. These can be little keepsake tokens or little candy or marzipan charms in the shapes of symbols like mushrooms, pigs, chimney sweeps, and more. Pigs are especially popular, as the expression “Have had pig” (schwein gehabt) can mean having good luck.

8. In Japan, a New Year’s Day feast goes beyond a single dish like hoppin’ john or apples. Their feast, O-sechi ryori, can take much planning as each element is intended to welcome prosperity, luck, and good health. For a sweet treat, some families prepare special mochi on their own on New Year’s Day.

9. The History Channel site shared some of the oldest New Year’s traditions, including the ancient Roman practice of making sure not to take New Year’s Day to rest. Working at least part of the day was encouraged, as idleness on New Year’s may be seen as a “bad omen” for the remainder of that year.

10. Finally, for those who want an early start, just after New Year’s Eve (around midnight), countries like Spain and Portugal do some grape speed eating just after midnight. The key is to eat one grape for each stroke of midnight (12 in total). Get this down before the last gong of the clock for good luck. If this seems like a good way to choke, this is often done with raisins as well.

However you mark the turning of the year, make sure the joy of new beginnings lasts longer than one second and continues to bring that joy to others wherever and whenever you can.

Happy New Year to everyone.

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