New Year's traditions carry on

By Roger Cowan

Yorktown News-View

Many people celebrated New Year’s with traditions handed down from elders, but some may not know the meaning behind several of them. In fact, some traditions may seem flat out strange.

Auld Lang Syne, a song many sing as the clock strikes midnight, was written by Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788. Written in the Scots’ language, the standard English translation is “Old Long Since.” While many people only know the chorus, there are actually five verses, divided by a chorus between each.

Many people enjoy fireworks for New Year’s, but few know the meaning behind them. Invented in China and documented as early as the seventh century during the Tang Dynasty, the noise was believed to scare away evil spirits and misfortune. Fireworks were brought to America with it’s earliest settlers and have been used in various celebrations throughout United States history.

While reading tea leaves was a popular way to reveal the future in China, many in Germany and Austria used molten lead. Melted and poured into cold water, the shape of the re-solidified lead was said to reveal what the New Year held. Called molybdomancy, the method originated in ancient Greece. The shapes can be interpreted directly or turned in the light of a candle and the shadows interpreted.

In Spain, a tradition exists of eating 12 grapes in the hopes of bringing good fortune for each month of the year. The catch would be that one must eat a grape at each toll of the clock at midnight. Dating back at least as far as 1895, the tradition is linked to the Puerta del Sol tower clock in Madrid where it started.

In Peru, locals celebrate the Takanakuy Festival. Originating in the Santo Tomas District, the center of the festival is brutal fist fights between,neighbors, family members, and anyone with a grudge from the previous year. The idea behind the event is to settle differences from the outgoing year and start with a clean slate. The five traditional “characters” portrayed in the dress of those taking part in the festival are based in Andean cultural symbols.

In Romania, children go house to house on January 1st with a “sorcova,” tapping the back of parents and acquaintances while singing to wish them health, youth, and fertility. The sorcova consists of a twig or stick adorned with tinsel, artificial flowers of varying colors, and sometimes candles. The twig is often that of a fir tree.

An old Cajun tradition involves Bonhomme Janvier, a snowy-bearded bearer of good tiding, would come through and leave fruit and nuts in children’s shoes and stockings. Another tradition had men of the community dress up in disguise as Indians or in old clothes turned inside out. The group would go house to house in the countryside with laterns. In the dark of night, they would sneak up on the porch of each house and sing La Guignolee. The song, accompanied by a fiddle, would beg for entry to the house, a 96-foot long sausage, and a dance with the oldest daughter, then apologizing for any mischief caused and ask for an invitation next year.

Whatever your traditions may be, the staff of the Yorktown N ews-View would like to wish its readers a Happy New Year, and may all your luck be good.

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