Friday, January 20, 2012

Chinese New Year Traditions and New Year Traditions Across the Globe


New Year's Day does not actually come only once a year but several times a year depending on the type of calendar one uses. For countries that adopted the Gregorian calendar, New Year's Day is always celebrated on January 1 of each year. The date never changes. This is the New Year often associated with the countries of the West and those that follow the Catholic faith.

In other cultures, countries and religions, their New Year's Day falls on a different month and day if you look at it through the Gregorian calendar. The day and sometimes the month may be different because they base the calculations of their respective new year's day on the cycles of the moon. The Chinese for instance follow a lunar calendar as opposed to the solar-based Gregorian calendar. For the Chinese, January 23 is the date for this year's Chinese New Year.
Each New Year brings so much hope and promise for a bigger, brighter, more prosperous and more peaceful year ahead. And to ensure that the coming year will be a great one, different cultures have different customs, traditions and beliefs that they follow. Knowledge is always a good thing and so, it will be good to know some of the traditions different countries and cultures follow. In today’s hi-tech world, many of these traditions don’t seem to make sense at all. It doesn’t hurt to follow them. Besides, many are fun and entertaining enough for everyone to participate in. So for your next New Year celebration, see which traditions you think you would want to adopt.

Spring Festival is near

New Year's Day for the Chinese is a day of rebirth. It marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Farmers welcome spring because it is the time for them to plant new harvest and start the cycle of life anew. Thus, the Chinese Lunar New Year is referred to as the Spring Festival.

The Chinese are known for having many traditions not only related to their New Year but to other events as well. Even the way they live their lives is peppered with time old customs and traditions, which have been passed down from generation to generation.

When it comes to the New Year's Day, the Chinese believe that what you do on this day may have an effect on your life at least till the end of the year. The Chinese are careful with their actions and would only do things that would bring them prosperity, good health and positive energy. For instance, it is a custom to only greet people that they believe would bring them positive energy and joy. The Chinese also watch what they eat ensuring that their meals for the day will bring them good health.

Some of the more common traditions practiced by the Chinese in preparation for New Year's Day include cleaning the whole house and getting rid of things associated with the past year, debts are repaid, and differences with immediate family, relatives, friends, neighbors, business associates and other people are resolved. The Chinese also make sure they have red money envelopes with new crisp bills, circular candy trays, flowers like water lilies or peach blossoms and new outfits not just for kids but for the whole family. Since red or orange is the color of New Year's Day you will see a lot of people wearing either of these two colors.

The Chinese need to have 8 round fruits on their dining tables. In some cultures, people prepare 12 round fruits instead of 8. For the Chinese, it is the number 8, not the number 12, that signifies good luck. The number 8 represents infinity. Countries with a large population of Chinese like the Philippines, Malaysia and other Asian countries follow this tradition as they usher in the New Year. If you want to follow this tradition, you have a multitude of round fruits to select from. Some of these rounded fruits are apples, oranges, grapes, watermelons, limes, blueberries, pomegranates, guavas, rhambutans, kiwis, plums, and peaches.

The pineapple, with its many “eyes,” is an important fruit for the New Year according to the Chinese. The “eyes” of the fruit symbolize success in one’s career and more opportunities for the coming year. The pineapple is placed outside doors and on windowsills.
Polka dots, crisp bills, noise makers, new undies and jumping at midnight

In the Philippines, there are some New Year’s Eve customs that the Filipinos inherited from their conquerors while others came from their ancestors. One tradition has something to do with polka dots. Many Filipinos believe that they should wear clothing with polka dot designs on them. Other cultures also wear spotted garments on New Year’s Eve. Polka dots represent money or wealth because coins have the same shape as the dots. The bigger the circumference of the polka dots, the more money is expected to come into the wearer’s life.

Many Filipinos also believe that having money on their person, whether in their pockets, wallets, or in pouches attached to their clothing when the clock strikes twelve on December 31 will ensure that they will be prosperous the coming year; the crispier and bigger (denomination-wise) the bills, the better. Coins are welcome, too.

To drive away evil spirits, the people of the Philippines, young and old, grab metal pots, pans and basins just before midnight of the 31st and hit them with much gusto to make as much noise as possible. They often use ladles, utensils, or sticks in banging the pots. Some bang two pots together for more noise. Others place coins inside tin cans or pots. These cans or pots are then shaken minutes before the clock strikes 12 on December 31 like you would a pair of maracas. Sellers of noisemakers such as different kinds of fireworks and horns made of paper or plastic make a mean profit days and hours before New Year’s Eve in the Philippines.

Parents, grandparents and other well-meaning adults tell the children to jump as high as they can on the strike of midnight. It is believed that the children will grow a few extra inches when they do so. Some young adults who want to gain some height also jump up as high as they can. After all, hope springs eternal. In other cultures, the children jump down from chairs or other platforms with the same wish in mind.

As far as wearing new underwear is concerned, some Filipinos believe that it is good luck to usher in the New Year fresh and clean. Wearing new clothes, shoes and accessories from head-to-toe and underneath makes people generally feel good during this time of year whether they are from the Philippines or elsewhere in the world.

Colorful underwear

In South American countries like Bolivia, Brazil, and Guatemala, and in Mexico, citizens have a tradition of donning colorful underpants as they welcome the New Year. Bright colored underpants are supposed to help them catch some good luck for the New Year ahead. Red and yellow are the favorite colors. Red represents love; so those who wear this color are hoping for a good love life ahead. Yellow is all about money and prosperity. Those who practice this tradition hope to gain material wealth in the coming year. For some cultures, yellow also represents happiness. Thus, people who wear this color of underwear expect less sadness and more glee in their lives. In Spain, where the practice probably originated, red underwear on New Year’s Eve equals good luck.

12 grapes of the New Year

Eating 12 grapes before the clock strikes 12 is a custom inspired by the Spanish. People of South America and even Filipinos follow this tradition. One grape is eaten to coincide with each chime on the clock as the countdown to the New Year starts. Each grape is equivalent to one wish.

Mistletoe in exchange for a mate

Irish women who are looking for love put mistletoe leaves under their pillows before the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve. Not only are the mistletoe leaves intended for catching a future husband, the leaves also serve to ward off bad luck.

Breaking plates in front of the neighbor’s door

It is customary in Denmark for neighbors to break plates, cups, glasses and other types of crockery in front of their neighbor’s front door. Having breakable dishes thrown at their doors do not irritate the Danish people. It is actually a welcome custom. The Danes believe that the more broken pieces in front of their doors, the better. Why? Because it is a sign that they have a lot of good friends.

The Vikings’ fiery balls

In Scotland, in a place called Stonehaven, Scots celebrate the Hogmanay Festival. On the last day of the year, men walk through the streets in a parade at night swinging fireballs above their heads. They believe that these balls of fire bring purification as well as sunshine to their community of men, animals and plants. This custom has been going on even before the advent of Christianity in Scotland. It is believed to have started during the time of the Vikings. Hogmanay is also celebrated in other parts of Scotland.

Race to be first-foot

At the heels of the Hogmanay Festival is the custom of first-footing. The Scottish people race to be the first person that crosses a friend’s or a neighbor’s threshold. In the past, symbolic gifts like salt, coal, whisky, shortbread and a type of rich fruit cake called a black bun were given to the owner of the household to bring some form of luck to the recipient. The gift giver in turn receives food and drink from the owner of the house. The person who successfully becomes the “first-foot” is said to be the recipient of good luck for the whole year. Many homeowners prefer their first-foot to be a tall, dark and handsome man as they bring the most good luck.

Auld Lang Syne

The Scots contributed one of the greatest New Year’s Eve traditions, the singing of “Auld Lang Syne.” The literal translation of the title is “old long since.” The song was part of the 1796 book entitled Scots Musical Museum. Poet Robert Burns heard an old man singing the song, which Burns then transcribed and refined to come up with the ever-popular New Year ditty. Although Auld Lang Syne is the most popular song during New Year’s Eve, people don’t seem to know all of the lyrics of this song. Auld Lang Syne reminds everyone to remember the people and events of the past with a measure of fondness. Guy Lombardo, legendary bandleader active during the years1924 to 1977, is credited with turning Auld Lang Syne into the New Year’s Eve tradition many know today.

Burning bad luck

The scarecrow not only scares birds away from crops, it also scares away bad luck according to an Ecuadorian custom. Scarecrows are filled with small pieces of wood and newspapers then burned on New Year’s Eve. The people of Ecuador who follow this custom believe that all the negative events of the past year will be erased and good luck and happiness will be in store for them for the coming year.

Fireworks

The most popular New Year’s Eve tradition throughout the globe is lighting up fireworks. A gift from the Chinese, fireworks come in many shape, form and price. Not only do fireworks supposedly ward off bad luck and drive away evil spirits, they give so much glee to those who light them and to those who watch them burn like flowers of fire in the nighttime sky. Fireworks are part of the New Year’s Eve celebrations throughout the world.

New Year’s resolutions

Before the start of the New Year, it is customary for many people to think of New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions are promises they make to themselves and also to others. Many resolutions are related to diet and exercise especially for people who want to be healthier and were remiss in being more conscious of taking care of their physical health. Some resolutions are financially motivated. People resolve to be more frugal and wise with their money. Others want to be more patient, more charitable, more attentive, more loving, or more hardworking. Some want to learn something new, take up a new sport or activity, or to be more adventurous.

The list of resolutions can be either long or short. But whether the resolution consists of only one line or fills more than one standard size bond paper, the usual problem with making a resolution is sticking to it till the end of New Year. Still, it is a good practice to make a list of resolutions because it gives a person time to reflect on his life and identify ways to become a better person. If you follow the Gregorian New Year, you can still make a New Year's resolution or two. Just make sure it is something you can follow through.

Chinese New Year is around the corner while the end of the first month of the New Year will come soon. Remember to start the 2012 on a positive note. Think before your act. Spread only kindness, love, understanding and compassion. 2011 was a trying time for the whole world. 2012 brings new hope to all. According to some doomsday sayers, the Mayan calendar predicted that the world would end on December 21, 2012. Whether this is true or not is anyone's guess. So the best thing to do is to live life to the fullest each and every day.

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