What do you think of when it comes to New Year traditions? The New Year Resolution (that most of us will break before the end of January)? Breaking into Auld Lang Syne at the stroke of midnight? If you’re in Wales you may be one of only a few places left in the country that still holds the Calennig tradition, or “First Footing” in Scotland. Or maybe New Year’s Day is a day for recovering from the night before? By worldly comparison, and by the list below, the UK has some relatively mundane New Year traditions.
Burning Photographs and Scarecrows (Ecuador)
This is not a combination you would ever expect to see together, but on the stroke of midnight New Year’s Day as the next year comes around, that’s exactly what they do. Fires at lit at midnight to burn scarecrows stuffed with straw. Usually, they are made in effigy of people they do not like! It’s customary to hang signs on the scarecrows of what they did wrong. If you don’t have the time or inclination to build a scarecrow effigy, then you might want to follow another tradition – the burning of photographs from the year that has just passed. It is said to bring good luck.
Cleanliness of the Bells… With a Smile (Japan)
Church bells ringing in the New Year is a common sound across the UK but in Japan, it is part of a necessary tradition. If you’re even in Japan over the New Year period, expect to hear a continual ring of bells; each one chimes 108 times. That’s an awful lot of rings, but it’s part of a Buddhist ritual of cleansing for the New Year. Out with the old and in with the new. Japanese people are known as quite serious but you will find them smiling rather a lot over New Year as it’s said to be good luck to smile as the year changes.
Start the Year with a Big Punch Up (Peru)
We might expect to see a fight in any of our major cities at New Year, usually fuelled by alcohol. The last places we expect to see a fight is in remote Peruvian villages. Called Takanakuy Festival, it began in one village in the 19th century but soon spread throughout the province. Fights are organised to settle old scores and start the new year with a clean state. It is said to be therapeutic and designed to let bygones be bygones. Fighting is not all there is to it. There is also singing and dancing to make up.
Jump into New Year (Denmark)
A week before New Year we are all “Stepping into Christmas” as the Elton John song goes. Why not follow that up with a leap from a chair? In the Scandinavian country of Denmark, it is traditional for people to stand on chairs as the new year approaches. Then it’s a matter of time before the clock ticks down. As midnight arrives, it is customary to jump off the chair. You’re making a giant leap from one year to the next. The metaphor is quite obvious; it’s usually the simplest ideas that catch on the most.
Cemetery Sleep Out (Chile)
It’s just as well December/January is high summer for the South American country otherwise things could get cold physically and metaphorically. This tradition might seem a little odd but in countries where deceased relatives are revered, it’s perhaps not that surprising. Families visit graveyards during the night of New Year’s Eve. Then, when the clock counts down to the new year, they essentially camp out in the graveyards near to their deceased family members. The entire night is a fiesta with fireworks and street parties.