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Wednesday 30 December 2009

The New Year : Symbols and Traditions

Actually, its symbols and traditions are legion, so what follows is a quick look at a few that I find particularly appealing.

The Tray of Togetherness is one that seems to recommend itself at this moment in time. (Recent news items would suggest that it is particularly need at this hour.) It is Chinese (you might well think me to be on some sort of Chinese kick, but it has just happen ed this way) and consists of a tray with eight compartments, each one of which is filled with a special item of food. The trays are offered to guests who visit during the New Year (Geng Yin) festivities. For the Chinese, our year of 2010 (their year of the tiger) begins on he 14th of February.

Janus The two-faced Roman God had January 1st dedicated to him by the Romans, as with his two faces he could simultaneously look back into the past and on into the future. He was also known as The God of Beginnings and Endings.

Candles Very familiar symbols, almost omnipresent at Christmas and The New Year, symbolising the spreading of light and warmth, but also it was understood that the smoke would rise into heaven, thereby ensuring that God would answer prayers.

The Yule Log Symbolises the return of the light to conquer darkness. It should be burnt for one whole night, then smoulder for twelve days (one day for each month of the year) and then extinguished imperially. Nowhere can I find any guidance as to what would constitute an imperial extinguishing!

Plum Blossom. Chinese again! Symbolising courage and hope. The blossom bursts forth at the end of winter on what appear to be lifeless branches.

First Footing As a boy I always associated the new year with Scotland. We had Christmas as our big occasion and they had the New Year - and what was more, they knew what to do with it, unlike us. My dad was stationed at Morpeth, Northumberland, during the war and made friends with a Scottish family. At times he managed to spend New Year (Hogmanay - Hog-mah-nay - with them, and would tell me of their celebrations). First Footing involved visiting friends and neighbours carrying a lump of coal for their fire or - intriguing this, I always thought - some shortbread, in return for the traditional hospitality they would show to the visitor. It was considered lucky if the first visitor over your threshold was tall and dark.

Auld Lang Syne Really belongs in the above paragraph. An evergreen part of the Scottish Celebrations. Literal translation: Old Long Since. It has been dubbed the most popular song whose lyrics are known by nobody. Not popularised by Robbie Burns as most folk believe, but by the band leader Guy Lombardo.

I finish with three from abroad that have particularly endeared themselves to me.

Spain The tradition is to eat twelve grapes at midnight, one for each month of the new year - don't know why that specially appeals, but it does.

The Netherlands People here, burn their Christmas trees and let off fireworks - it's the burning of the trees that appeals.

Japan Oshogatsu Their New Year parties (Bonenkai) are in fact forget-the-old-year-parties. From a family dimension we have had a particularly forgettable year, so this one seems the one for us for this year at least.

A Very Happy New Year to You All


Shadow said...

some lovely traditions and beliefs here. i enjoyed this tremendously. and a happy new year to you too!

Unknown said...

An intriguing list, & a happy New Year to you & yours!

steven said...

dave i am drawn like you to the burning of the tree. i'd like to implant a cornucopia of fireworks inside it prior to its being set alight and then retreat to a safe distance and light a long long fuse and let 'er rip. in reality we have our chritsmas tree picked up to be turned into mulch for gardeners thereby keeping it in the ecological loop! have a lovely year's end and a peaceful new year. steven

Jim Murdoch said...

My daughter gave my wife two candles for Xmas. Odd things, they're made of wax but have a remote control like a TV. You can change the colour, make the 'flame' flicker and even have the things on a timer. There's something quite charming about them plus they can't tip over and set the place on fire.

Jinksy said...

We included a siver coin in the First Footing tradition, and my Dad was always hastily disaptched before mindnight (he had dark hair!) so's he'd be the first over the doorstep with the coal, bread and silver threepenny bit. Shows how frugal we were - bread, not shortbread,and a specially saved, silver coin which had usually just served a term inside a Christmas pudding! lol!

Barry said...

We would have difficulty with the Netherland's tradition, given that our tree is artificial. I suppose it might burn if we made the fire hot enough, but the resulting toxic chemicals might out weight the benefits.

However, I like the idea of the Japanese New Year--forget-the-old-year-parties (Bonenkai)!

Sounds perfect to me.

Enchanted Oak said...

Thank you for the trip around the world and other traditions. I especially am drawn to the plum tree, it's courage and hope. Those are needed when facing the unknown, surrounded by the news bites of tragedy unfolding around the world. Thank you for a moment of courage and hope.

Tabor said...

Fascinating list. Enjoying the symbolism of each as we small mankind try to change the next year as we bid adieu to the last. Thanks for pulling this together...I am thinking I need to come up with a tradition for me and perhaps mine.

Kass said...

I had never heard of some of these traditions. I'm going to include a few in my celebration. Thank you. Have a great new year!

Helen said...

Hi there!
I'm drawn to Janus and the looking back/looking forward concept.

I also love what New Yorkers do now ... they write down anything negative that happened during the past year they don't want in the new year ... take it to this gigantic shredder and ~~ magically it's gone! What great symbolism.

Friko said...

there are many customs and traditions connected with Silvester - the night between the years - in Germany and people still celebrate as they have always done.
Even the food is tradition - carp - for the night and the first day. It is the time for fireworks and loud noises to drive out the old year and everybody pours out onto the street at midnight to welcome the new year. There's also a kind of first footing, groups of men, in costume, go in procession to bring in the new year from house to house.

Happy New Year, Dave.

Joanne Licsko said...

Happy New Year Dave!

Friko said...

Dave, Friko again,

every time I comment on your posts I now get a notification from mail delivery service that the comment cannot be mailed to you. What's going on? You do get my comments on the blog, I hope, they appear on the page I'm looking at.

Meri said...

I wonder what kinds of noxious chemicals would be released with the burning of artificial trees?

Karen said...

Here, we serve cooked cabbage with a coin in it. I have no idea why! Thanks for sharing these traditions.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Ah - these New Year customs Dave. I used to have a large New Year party every year on New Years Eve - I finally stopped last year when we all got a bit long in the tooth. We always had a first footer - he is now nearing ninety and can no longer do it, but he dressed in a kilt went out of the front door and came in the back at the last stroke of midnight with coal and salt. Happy Days.
A Happy New year to you and your family.

Rachel Fenton said...

Chinese symbolism is lovely - I'm very "into" symbolism, though I get it all in a muddle and the chances of finding something with a universal meaning are very slim!

Happy New Year, Dave!

Elisabeth said...

Ah Dave, all these wonderful, international rituals and symbols for the new year.

I'm not into anything. No rituals for the new year, though I will light a candle tomorrow in honour of TFG's blog, but at midnight I will stand in the middle of our street and watch from a great distance the fireworks in the city. I will acknowledge my husband and our neighbors with a hug and a kiss and then I will drive to the outer suburbs to collect my sixteen year old daughter from another New Year's Eve party. You can't get a taxi on New Years Eve for love or money and I won't have her on public transport late at night, certainly not alone.

That's the rub for me. I always imagine New years Eve to be such a dangerous night. Every New Years day the newspapers report on how much violence occurred the night before, though the government here and the police have tried to get a grip on it. No drinking in the central city. It's a family event, the fireworks and trams run all night long. I sound like a wowser, perhaps.

In the privacy of my own mind I have all sorts of thoughts about the New Year. I'm so glad to be starting a year that has even numbers, especially given the rough year I've had.

Enough of me and mine. I hope you and yours have a great New Years Eve, preferably one free of angst and that the new year brings all kinds of good things for us all.

susan sonnen said...

Happy New Year, Dave. :)

Dianne said...

I don't think Californians have many local New Year's traditions.
I like the idea of saying goodbye, so I've been doing it in poetry.
There is also the idea of burning a bonfire with something in it. My jewish friends throw bread into water on jewish new year. I have begun attending a workshop every Jan which uses art therapy to create a vision for the new year. I think I met my visions...

Write a new year, Dianne

Karen said...

When you get a chance, come to my place and see what you've inspired.

Happy New Year!