New Year Traditions (other than that whole Times Square thing)

I’m not going to lie; my New Year’s Eve was decidedly NOT wild and crazy. We spent it at home with friends, lots of wine, board games and Guitar Hero (if you’ve been following my mental_floss musings, you know I got it for Christmas and have been obsessively playing ever since). But you know what? I’m totally cool with my low-key New Year’s. It’s much more my scene than clubs and huge bashes. If you’re already trying to figure out how to ring in ‘09 and Catchphrase and Pinot Noir isn’t exactly your style, here are a few celebrations and traditions to check out.

If you’re going to be in Scotland, plan on celebrating Hogmanay. One of the major Hogmanay traditions is called “first footing”. Just after the stroke of midnight, neighbors start filing through each other’s houses. The first person to enter the house is known, appropriately, as the first foot. The first foot traditionally brings gifts for the household - coal to ensure a warm house and shortbread to represent a well-stocked kitchen for the next year. Scotland was also the home of Robert Burns, who wrote Auld Lang Syne.

In Japan, you’ll definitely want to hit up the stores to get Fukubukuro. Fukubukuro is a New Year’s Day tradition where retailers fill grab bags with products leftover from the year before. It goes along with the Japanese supersition that you should start the year clean - not with unwanted garbage from the year before. This just proves that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, because people literally line up around the block for a chance to purchase one of these random bags. They usually sell for at least 50 percent off of the contents inside - although the contents remain unknown until the purchase is complete. Some stores even up the ante by including airplane tickets to exotic destinations, couture clothes and expensive accessories and jewelry.

During Songkran, the Thai New Year, expect to get doused with water in some form or another. Garden hoses, water guns, buckets of water... anything goes. It started as a way to show respect to other people and was more of a “blessing” with water, not a total shower.The Thai New Year is celebrated in April, which is a very hot month, so the water is usually welcomed by those getting hit with it.

One of my favorites is the dachshund parade in Key West. On New Year’s Eve, 100 dachshunds get the chance to strut their stuff. This is only the third annual Dachshund Parade in Key West, so it’s a fairly new traditionl. Some dogs are dressed up in costumes; some are au naturale. This is just one of the offbeat traditions in Key West - Ernest Hemingway’s old haunt, Sloppy Joe’s, drops a giant conch shell at the stroke of midnight.

And on Bourbon Street, a drag queen named Sushi descends from the balcony of a bar in a huge, red, glittering high heel.

If you’re visiting Denmark for the New Year and wake up to find a pile of smashed dishes on your porch, you should be flattered. People save old dishes all year so they can throw them at the doors of friends on New Year’s Day. The bigger the pile of broken dishes you have, the more friends you have.

Oh yeah, and then there’s that whole ball dropping thing in New York City. But NYC isn’t the only town that drops something at midnight.

  • Miami, Orlando and Orange County, California - an orange

  • Fayetteville, Arkansas - a hog (not a real one)

  • Eastport, Maine - a sardine

  • Easton, Maryland - a crab

  • Elmore, Ohio - a sausage

  • Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania - a wrench

  • Fredericksburg, Virginia - a pear

  • Atlanta, Georgia - a peach

  • Brasstown, North Carolina - a live opossum in a cage
  • As for us, the only thing we really did out of the ordinary was eat 12 grapes at midnight. It’s a Hispanic custom that is supposed to bring good luck. Here’s hoping it works. Happy New Year everyone!!

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    I never heard of eating 12 grapes at midnight when I lived with my Mexican "in-laws" in Austin, Tx. Their tradition was eating tamales. I helped to make them, but just couldn't eat them. Now I live with a Chilean who insists they have no special holiday traditions. Then again, he hates to observe any "arbitrary" date, even anniversaries.
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    Yes, my family eats black-eyed peas on New Years, too. The idea is that if you eat them on New Years, you'll be financially prosperous all year. I thought it was just a southern thing.
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    Yeah, me and my family celebrated the same way we celebrate just about every year: wine, music, friends, and black-eyed peas. The only thing we have changed is having huge 3-4 hour Guitar Hero parties. OK, so it's kinda nerdy, but StacyBee can back me up when I say it is impossible to stop playing it!
    Also, I really wish I could go to the Dachshund parade- it would be hilarious.
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    In New York's Greenwich Village, Jason Tagg of Sonic Uke stages the Uke Drop every year.

    The video of this year's is here:
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    We have "Bleigießen" in Germany:

    Bleigießen (pron. BLYE-ghee-sen)

    “Lead pouring” (das Bleigießen) is an old practice using molten lead like tea leaves. A small amount of lead is melted in a tablespoon (by holding a flame under the spoon) and then poured into a bowl or bucket of water. The resulting pattern is interpreted to predict the coming year. For instance, if the lead forms a ball (der Ball), that means luck will roll your way. The shape of an anchor (der Anker) means help in need. But a cross (das Kreuz) signifies death.

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