Did you ever wonder what traditions other countries and cultures have for welcoming in the New Year? Did you know that the Chinese started off fireworks celebrations as a way to discourage the forces of darkness and bad luck? In Thailand they used guns to ring in the New Year to scare away demons. And perhaps leave a ringing in your ears.

In the early days of the United States, like with Thailand, pistols were used to ring in the New Year. They were used to scare bad luck, demons (and perhaps, the British).

In Spain, they eat precisely 12 grapes at midnight. The people will stuff 12 grapes into their mouths in the final moments of the year, a grape for every chime of the clock. It’s not known how many times the Heimlich maneuver is used those few seconds after midnight.

Of course, in the United States, it’s black-eye peas and pork. A popular dish in the American south is Hoppin’ John. It’s comprised of black-eyed peas, rice, bacon, ham hock, onion and salt. The idea is that it will bring you a prosperous new year with good luck. But, you have to eat Hoppin’ John on new year’s day because the day after new years, it becomes Skippin’ Jenny. It’s supposed to reinforce your frugality and bring you hope for even more prosperous New Year.

In Scotland the last day of the year is called Hogmanay. The celebrations last all night and have people parading down the street swinging fireballs. Some cities, such as Edinburgh, burn a Viking longship. The Edinburgh Hogamanay celebrations are the largest in the world. And, as you may know, the tradition of singing Auld Lange Syne comes from Scotland. In Scotland it is now common to sing Auld Lange Syne in a circle of linked arms that are crossed over one another as the clock strikes midnight for New Year's Day, though it is only intended that participants link arms at the beginning of the final verse, before rushing in to the center as a group.

In The Netherlands, oliebollen are served. These are round Dutch doughnut-type pastries. Anything that is a circle is considered good luck because it symbolizes coming full circle. Calories are just a byproduct, and they too, will come full circle.

Some of the other culinary traditions include eating rice in India and Pakistan because it promises prosperity; eating bannocks (a type of bread) in Ireland; dipping apples in honey for Rosh Hashanah; The Swiss drop dollops of whip cream on the floor, and allow them to remain there! It symbolizes the richness of the year to come. And, perhaps, of the mice to come!

In the United States, champagne is the popular beverage of choice. In England, and in parts of the eastern U.S., wassail is served. Wassail is Gaelic for “good health.”

The Scottish have their own version of wassail, called “hot pint.” Notice this trend with the Scottish? They seem to have the best traditions. The Scots drink to each others’ prosperity (if you survive the parade of flaming fireballs). It’s usually offered to neighbors along with a small gift. In Holland they use hot, spiced wine.

In our home, we drink Gluhwein, which is German. It’s a mulled wine that we warm up slowly in a crockpot along with slices of a lemon and an orange and a couple of cinnamon sticks. Russia also has their version of “boiled wine,” glintvine.

The ancient Romans used to give gifts of gilded nuts or coins to start the New Year. The Persians exchanged eggs, which are seen as symbols of fertility. The Egyptians traded earthenware flasks.

Back to Scotland, where coal, shortbread and silverware were exchanged for good luck. Perhaps they felt you need luck dodging the parade of fireballs. In Scotland, after midnight, family and friends visit each other’s home. The “first foot” to cross a threshold after midnight will predict the next year’s fortune. Although the tradition varies, those deemed especially fortunate as “first footers” are new brides, new mothers, those who are tall and dark or anyone born on January 1.

Perhaps the oldest New Year’s tradition belongs to the Babylonians, circa 2600 B.C., who made New Year’s resolutions as a way to reflect on the past and plan ahead.

Here are few proverbs and wisdom from ages long gone and that still hold some lessons for today;

− Begin the new year square with every man. [i.e., pay your debts!] –Robert B. Thomas, founder of The Old Farmer’s Almanac

- If the old year goes out like a lion, the new year will come in like a lamb.

- For abundance in the new year, fill your pockets and cupboards today.

- If New Year’s Eve night wind blow south, It betokeneth warmth and growth.

- On New Year’s Eve, kiss the person you hope to keep kissing.

 

As the Scottish singer Andy Stewart use to sing:

 

"Haste ye Back":

Haste ye back, we loue you dearly, Call again you're welcome here. May your days be free from sorrow, And your friends be ever near. May the paths o'er which you wander, Be to you a joy each day. Haste ye back we loue you dearly, Haste ye back on friendship's way.