Weird Wednesdays: Ring in the New Year

Different cultures have different traditions of ringing in the New Year. (Chris Phutully/Creative Commons)

Different cultures have different traditions of ringing in the New Year. (Chris Phutully/Creative Commons)

As 2017 draws to a close, we face finals with the graveness of a soldier before battle. Once you’re free of the tyranny of school, you can plunge into the holiday season with some relief. And when New Year’s Eve hits, embrace it, with pots, pans and grapes in hand!

Apparently, New Year’s hasn’t always been Jan. 1. The official calendar used by the majority of industrialized countries around the world today is the Gregorian Calendar, so called because it was instituted by Pope Gregory XIII in the late 16th century.

Before that, people were a little more hodge-podge about how they kept the time (and the years). Iceland used a lunar calendar that necessitated the occasional leap-week (instead of a leap-day). The Asiatic Bulgars used a 12-month system with each month named for an animal (Which makes “I’ll be starting school next Mouse” sound a little weird). New Year’s could be celebrated anytime from March, to Easter weekend, to April, depending on which time-keeping system was used.

The Gregorian Calendar is based on the Roman Julian calendar (so named for Julius Caesar) with a couple of days added to line up the solstice days with the actual light/dark cycles. It was also the first calendar to make New Year’s end in January instead of March.

The Romans, as we learned in last week’s column know how to party. New Year’s, however, was a bit of a demure celebration. Instead of getting mad-drunk and indulging (like on Saturnalia) the Romans instead took care to pray to Janus (Ianus), the two-faced god of gateways and crossroads. Priests made sacrifices and public officials were officially sworn in.

Nowadays, the Western New Year (I’ll go into Chinese New Year in a later column) is a riot. People get drunk (to the point where it’s rumored to be the worst day for drunk drivers on the roads) and make merry.

Different cultures, of course, have different traditions, though there are parallels.

Midnight is especially important, since it represents the transfer from one year to another-- a supernaturally significant (and risky) time. In Spain, people ensure their good luck by eating 12 grapes, one for each stroke of midnight. Drinking champagne ensures prosperity and lots of burping.

Kissing at midnight is a staple in both rom-coms and countries around the globe. Supposedly, it sets you up for a year of affection, closeness and (presumably) no breakups.

A medieval tradition involves opening the door at 12 to ‘Let the old year out.’ Some families chase the old year (and any bad spirits hanging around) by banging on pots and pans.

The Danish take this a step farther and go so far as to break plates at their friend’s houses. A pile of broken plates at your front door in Denmark meant that you were well-liked!

In Latin American countries, even the color of your underwear would determine your fortune. Red or yellow underwear guaranteed good luck. Pink meant luck in love, while blue meant good health. (No word as to what layering will do for you).

In Japan, many households celebrate by eating old-style dishes called osechi-ryōri, which are dried or pickled foods that don’t require refrigeration. Rice cakes are also popular, as well as zoni, a mochi soup made with salmon, gobo and daikon-- food from the mountains, farmlands, and the sea, the three lands of Japan.

Whatever you do this New Year, let’s hope it’s an even better one than the last one. Wear some blue underwear, eat some grapes, bang on some pans, throw some plates, ring in the new year and, of course, keep it weird.

See you next year!


Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.