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New Year, Auld Lang Syne and other celebrations from around the world

December 2011 

New Year celebrationsNew Year is approaching and it is such a fun celebration without all the hassle and hard work that can be associated with a traditional Christmas.

Scotland has always been considered a leader in New Year celebrations where it is known as hogmanay. While drinking champagne, and counting the New Year in are as normal in Scotland as they are in other parts of the world, there are also one or two other traditions associated with New Year in this region.

One old Scottish tradition which is still respected is that of the “first footer”; an old belief that says that the first person who sets foot in your home on New Year’s day decides the luck of household for the rest of the year. Ideally the first caller will be someone who brings a gift, especially of bread or coal to show there would be adequate food and warmth through the year.

A stronger tradition from Scotland which is replicated across the world is the singing of Auld Lang Syne in a circle with linked arms. It originated from the pen of Robert Burns in around 1788, when he sent a copy of the song to the Scots Musical Museum. Interestingly, he accompanied the song with the comment that... “The following song is an old song of the olden times which has never been in print nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man”. This indicates it really is an old song although the melody is thought to have changed over the years.

The popular lyrics of this song are:
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.
We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine† ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

But not everyone celebrates New Year’s Eve with champagne and singing Auld Lang Syne.

In Austria, New Year’s Eve is called by Sylvesterabend, celebrating the eve of Saint Sylvester. Fireworks are traditional and there is also custom to drink a punch made with red wine, cinnamon and sugar. New Year’s Day is celebrated with a big lunch, usually based around a suckling pig which is a symbol of good luck.

In Spain, New Year’s Eve usually starts with a big family dinner which traditionally should include shrimp and lamb or capon. There is another Spanish tradition which says that wearing new, red underwear on New Year’s Eve brings good luck.

In Armenia, they have a charming custom for New Year’s Eve. Children gather in groups and wander around their villages, singing songs, a little like British carol singers, but with the expectation of fruit as a thank you.

Of course not all countries celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1st. In Bengali in India, for instance, they celebrate New Year around the 13th or 14th of April. Homes are cleaned and decorated, and flour is used to paint patterns on the ground in the front of their houses. In the middle of the design a pot is placed containing a mango tree branch to symbolise good fortune.

Chinese New Year is now well known all over the year. It takes place between January 21st and February 20th, a date like our Easter that is fixed by the moon. It is a time for feasting and visiting friends and family, but also a time for great public displays and celebrations. Street parades, dancing dragons and lions, processions with floats; towns plan their celebrations months in advance for this big occasion.

There are numerous other Chinese traditions associated with New Year, including a big feast on New Year’s day.

By contrast, in Swaziland in Africa, there is no specific New Year celebration; instead the end of the year is celebrated by Newala, a harvest festival. Many different events take place to celebrate Newala and can last for a whole month. The end of Newala is marked by large dancing groups, with people chanting sacred songs and then a big bonfire. This represents the burning and ending of the previous year.

However it is marked, New Year has become a global celebration to mark the end of the old year and welcome in the new. Because of the time differences, Samoa, Tokelau and Kiribati, followed by New Zealand, are the first countries that will be welcoming in 2012. Here’s wishing our world all the very best for peace, happiness and prosperity in 2012.

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