New Year’s Eve is recognized across the globe. In the United States, you’ll see a lot of cheering and jeering, sipping and smooching. In addition to the fervor, Americans create resolutions in an attempt to shake bad habits in the forthcoming year. But in other parts of the world, traditions and superstitions differ a bit. From one continent to the next, it seems that every culture has a ritual designed to ward off bad luck as they move into the new year.
Oddly enough, when you take a wider view of New Year’s traditions and superstitions from around the world, almost all of them involve doors and windows. In most cultures, the home is a sacred place, so it makes sense that any passageway in and out of a household would be blessed by the owner at the beginning of the new year.
New Year’s Traditions & Superstitions From Around the World
- The Red Doors of China – Chinese culture is one of the oldest in recorded history. The Chinese New Year celebrations can be tracked all the way back to the Shang Dynasty, between 1600 BC and 1100 BC. Their end of the year traditions are inspired by myth and legend. The lore speaks of a wild beast named Nien, which means ‘year’. This beast was said to savagely attack people at the end of the year. In response, locals used bright lights and loud noises in an attempt to scare away this mythical creature. This practice has evolved throughout the generations and is responsible for the vibrant Chinese New Year celebrations we see today, with loads of fireworks and vibrant colors. Their ability to turn frightening tales into a reason for celebration is inspiring. Other practices include locals painting their front doors with a fresh coat of red paint. Red is regarded as a lucky and sacred color that invites good fortune and happiness. They also go as far as hiding knives and sharp objects so that no one accidentally injures themselves, which would bring bad luck to their household in the new year. The Chinese New Year is decided by their lunar calendar which changes with each passing year.
- Opening Windows to Let out Bad Spirits – Filipinos believe that by cracking a window or door on New Year’s Eve it allows the negative energies to leave the home, and makes room for good energy to enter. Most Filipino families will also attend midnight mass on New Year’s Eve to pray for good fortune and give thanks for their blessings.
- South Africa Literally Throws Last Year out the Window – You remember the old saying, “Out with the old, in with the new.”? Well, it seems that a town in South Africa takes this adage a little too seriously. In Johannesburg, South Africa’s biggest city, the neighborhood of Hillbrow takes things to the extreme. Folks in Hillbrow ring in the New Year by hurling old furniture off their balconies or tossing chairs out of windows. Apparently, this emphasizes the idea of getting rid of the old, to make way for the new. Sadly, there have been injuries associated with this overly physical tradition. Authorities have gotten involved in past New Year’s couch-throwing incidents, so if you ever find yourself in Hillbrow when the clock strikes midnight, remember to keep an eye out for flying furniture.
- The Brit’s New Year’s Traditions – In Britain Christmas is widely recognized, but prior to the year 2000, England didn’t celebrate the New Year with much hoopla or fanfare. Fast forward to today and you’ll find Brit’s all over England enjoying fireworks and libations to ring in the New Year. The much older traditions were symbolic of the time. For instance, families living in England a hundred years ago would welcome the first man with dark hair into their home and ask that he carry salt, coal, and bread in his arms. The items symbolized abundance, fortune and warmth.
- Greece Loves Their Onions – The people of Greece consider onions to be a symbol of growth and rebirth. In keeping with tradition, Greeks attend New Year’s Day church service and then hang onions on a chosen door in their household afterward. This is the ultimate sign and offering of fertility and is said to bring about growth in the new year. There is a specific species of onion that needs to be used. Known to locals as a squill onion, grown on the isle of Crete, this noxious bulb is said to have mystical powers. The Pagans also found this species of onion to have regenerative powers and were considered a gift from the god Pan.
- Germany Leaves Their Troubles Behind – Germans refer to their New Year’s Eve as “Silvester,” to pay homage to Pope Sylvester the first, who passed away on New Year’s Eve. The legend suggests that anybody that didn’t believe in his holy powers would choke on fish bones. Which led to the superstition of not eating fish that night. As far as New Year’s Eve celebratory traditions go, Germans enjoy putting silver coins under their front doormats. This is said to bring fortune for the new year and signify leaving their cares behind.
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