By Sue Lavene
As I finalize our New Years plans with friends, I contemplate how differently New Years is celebrated around the world:
Latin America (Spain, Mexico & Venezuela)
In some countries, as the clock rings twelve midnight, for each ring of the bell, people each twelve grapes, one at a time to bring good luck to all 12 months of the new year. Theater productions and movies are sometimes interrupted to carry out this tradition.
Chinese New Year
This celebration takes place some time between January 21st and February 20th, the exact date determined by the lunar calendar and the new moon. The celebrations are based on bringing luck, health, happiness, and wealth until the next year and include include fireworks to scare off evil spirits, parades and a Festival of Lanterns, in which thousands of lanterns light the way to the New Year. Day 3 offers the Dragon Dance when people open their doors to allow paper mache dragon heads (a symbol of strength) in to bring them luck.
This 3-day celebration called Maha Thingyan (or big change), on or near April 16th, is celebrated with prayers, fasting and fun. During the festivities, buildings and temples are washed, and people throw water over each other. Everyone must get wet to welcome the new year. The Burmese believe that water acts as a soul purifier. Getting wet means that one can start the New Year with a cleansed soul.
This is also a 3-day festival falling on April 13th, 14th and 15th on the Gregorian calendar. The first day Sangkhan Long finds people cleaning out their homes to say goodbye to the old year. Day two, Mueu Nao, is considered a dangerous day because the spirit of the old year has left and the new year's spirit has yet to arrive to protect people from misfortune. It is for this reason that people might stay home and do nothing but rest. And day three, Sangkhan Kheun, is the start of the new year, the most joyous day when people go to pray, then back home for a special family ceremony.
Dinner parties, drinking and eating is often accompanied by the traditional German custom called Bleigiessen in which a candle is lit and small chunks of lead are melted in a spoon held over the candle. The molten lead is then quickly poured from the spoon into a bucket of cold water, where it hardens almost immediately. Each person tries to determine what he or she "sees" in the hardened lead figure and the shape of the lead determines the future of that person for the new year.
For more new years celebrations, see Father Times.