New Year's rituals vary with cultures

Dec. 29, 2011 at 6:29 a.m.

Every New Year's Day for the last 30 years , Victoria resident Dorothy Filip has enjoyed lunch at Ramsey's Restaurant.

Filip, 68, said going to the diner started off as a family tradition for her, her husband and their two children.

However, their daughter stopped joining them after she got married, and Filip's husband died in July.

Filip said she and her son will continue the familial New Year's tradition of enjoying the diner's hearty holiday meal of brisket, ham, turkey and the most important dish of the year - black-eyed peas.

"Black-eyed peas bring good luck all year," said Filip, who said her new-found luck would include President Obama successfully reforming healthcare and increasing Social Security checks.

Like many others, Filip continues to adhere to cultural New Year's traditions that have long been practiced by generations past.

"They are about physically manipulating chaos because they didn't know what was going to happen in the new year," said Rhett Rushing, folklorist at the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio. "It was the idea that as long as you perform them properly, you had some hand in controlling your destiny."

Rushing said many of the traditions' roots date back to B.C.E. (Before common era) and symbolized the death of the harvest and survival of the family leading to new beginnings.

Here are some cultural New Year's traditions.


Celebrated on Jan. 1 since 1873, the Japanese New Year (shogatsu) is one of the most important annual festivals.

The house must be thoroughly cleaned so no evil spirits can linger.

All debts must be paid, and most importantly, all disagreements must be resolved and forgiven.

Before midnight, 108 bells must ring to symbolize the elimination of 108 troubles.

With no troubles, disagreements, debts, or disorder to contend with, all are free to welcome in the new year with every expectation of peace and prosperity.

Traditional rituals of the day also include sending New Year's cards; writing Haikus; visiting a shrine or temple; viewing the new year's first sunrise; giving money to children; and playing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with accompanying chorus.


An Irish tradition involves predicting the political future of the country by checking which way the wind blows at midnight on New Year's Eve.

If the wind is from the west, there is a chance that good fortune will reign that year.

But a wind is from the east, means the British will prevail.

Mistletoe is handed out to thwart bad luck, and single women put a sprig of mistletoe under their pillows in hopes of catching a dream about their future husbands.

Also celebrants pound on the doors and windows of the house with bread to chase out evil spirits and ensure bread for the upcoming year.


For blacks, New Year's Day, otherwise known as Emancipation Day or Jubilee Day, has a special significance. On Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves from bondage, was read in Boston.

Skeptical that President Abraham Lincoln would keep his word about emancipation, blacks, both slaves and those who were already free, as well as abolitionists, prayed through the night and into the day.

Abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass stayed at a church in Rochester, NY, until 10 p.m. on New Year's Day, awaiting a cable that assured him that the law had been passed.

Today, many black families pay homage to the historic event by attending Watch Night services at church beginning New Year's Eve night and ending on New Year's day.

The celebration coincides with the end of Kwanzaa, a holiday observed by many blacks from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 to celebrate their cultural heritage.


Today, family members get together and spread wishes of happiness and health and exchanged gifts called "Bonne Annee."

Also unique to the day, young men who wish to marry their sweetheart ask her parents for permission to wed.

Women avoid receiving the first good wishes of the day from someone of her own sex to thwart off bad luck.


The first person to enter a home after midnight on the first day of the year should be a male, preferably with dark hair. Blondes may have been associated with Vikings - visitors who never brought good luck.

The one to enter, called a first-footer, should carry a gift, such as a coin for prosperity, bread for food, salt for flavor, or whiskey to represent good cheer.

The first-footer can be a resident of the house, but must not be inside during the hour leading up to midnight.


On New Year's Eve, women who want love and passion in the next year are encouraged to wear red underwear; for happiness and prosperity, yellow underwear; for health and well-being, green underwear; for true love and friendship, pink underwear; for hope and peace, white underwear.

Other Hispanic-rooted traditions include cleaning the house; taking a bath; or washing the pets and cars on New Year's Eve for renewal; opening the door at midnight and symbolically sweeping out "the old," throwing a bucket of water out the window for renewal or taking empty suitcases for a walk outside on New Year's Eve.


Southerners, particularly those in East Texas, traditionally eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day for good luck and prosperity. Black-eyed peas symbolize wealth because they look like coins and prosperity because they swell when cooked.

The peas are typically served with collard greens, which represent money, and cornbread, which represents gold.

Additionally, many shoot guns at the beginning of the New Year, a tradition stemming from the mid-1700s when men discharged their weapons to cleanse them of old gun powder and refill for the new year.


Rhett Rushing, folklorist at the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio



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