Walsh’s Wonderings — New Year’s traditions

The new year is always an opportunity to start anew, to shake off the vestiges of the past 12 months and carve a new path forward. What better way to do this than by doing the exact same things we did last year?

Traditions are important, but surely we can do better than watching a ball drop on a street crowded with thousands of frozen drunkards who have no hope of reaching a bathroom. For instance, Estonia’s tradition of eating seven, nine, or 12 times on New Year’s signifies they’ll have the strength of many in the new year. (I had to explain this one to my wife as I kept visiting the fridge during Tuesday’s bowl games.)

If one can’t finish everything on one’s plate, the food left behind is believed to make ancestral spirits happy. (I didn’t share this part with my wife.)

In Japan, Buddhist temples ring their temple bells 108 times in an event known as “joya no kane.” This ritual is meant to drive away the 108 human desires that lead to pain and suffering, ushering in a more positive new year. In Finland, horseshoes are melted and poured quickly into a bucket of cold water, where the resulting mass is examined to predict future events in the coming year.

Robert F. Walsh

In Ecuador, people burn effigies of politicians and other pop culture figures as a symbolic cleansing of the previous 12 months. Something tells me there’s not enough papier mache in the world to handle the job we’d have this year.

In Spain, they eat 12 grapes at each toll of the bell as midnight approaches in order to ensure good luck in the coming year. Better still if they’re wearing red underwear. In many South American countries, they take this a step further: yellow underwear will ensure happiness and prosperity in the new year, while red promises love. If this underwear is new and obtained as a gift, the wearer gets even more luck. Many countries also suggest underwear be worn inside-out before midnight, then turned right-side out after midnight. (I can only assume that if someone else is doing this for you, you have all the luck you need.)

Some traditions defy explanation: the Swiss drop a dollop of cream on the floor to ring in the new year; Bolivians bake coins into their sweets; and Belgians are to sure to wish their livestock a happy new year, all in the name of bringing good fortune. In Siberia, New Year’s traditions include diving into a frozen lake with a tree trunk. (Suddenly that grape thing doesn’t seem so weird, does it?)

In Denmark, the traditional New Year’s meal of boiled cod is followed by rounding up all their broken bits of china from throughout the year and smashing them against their friends’ doors in a sign of affection. The second day of the new year probably requires finding new friends, or at least stronger china.

However, some traditions make so much sense that I can’t understand why we don’t try them here. I refer, of course, to the Peruvian festival of Takanakuy, which translates to “when the blood is boiling” in the Chumbivilcas tongue. It culminates with public fist fights among members of the community (young and old, male and female) to settle grievances built up over the year. Meant to resolve conflict and strengthen community bonds, it would be a great way to settle all those awkward political discussions that ruined Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Regardless of how you celebrate, I wish you all a happy and healing new year.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com, contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.

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