New Year's Eve - A Time of Celebrations and Cultural Traditions
At Madame Curiosity, we encourage learning about the traditions and customs of cultures all over the world, and sampling them within the appropriate context, like while immersed in the culture itself or while celebrating traditions with a family of a different culture than your own.
In the spirit of celebrating the commonalities among all people, we share some intellectual tidbits about New Year's Eve traditions for music, food, and being with those you love.
Appreciate Family and Loved Ones with a Scottish Tune
Enjoy the spirit of the season while celebrating the good times - and the bad - with a song from Scotland.
In 1788, Scottish poet Robert Burns penned his famous poem "Auld Lang Syne," which translates to "old long since" or "times gone by." It wasn't made public until shortly after the poet's death in 1796, when it was published in James Johnson's Scots Musical Museum collection. Burns was inspired to write the poem by Sir Robert Ayton's "Old Long Syne," published in 1711.
The melody used for the song comes from English composer William Shield's 1782 comic opera, Rosina. The words were originally set to a different tune than the one we know and love today. That version didn't get put together until 1799, when it was published in George Thomson's compilation of Scottish songs.
From there, it's been published many times over - and is enjoyed in many cultures around the world at the stroke of the New Year.
Eat to Bring Health, Wealth, and Luck
Cultures around the world ring in what they wish for most with celebratory new year's foods.
In Spain, revelers stuff 12 white grapes into their mouths while considering what good luck would mean for each month of the coming year. The tradition of the twelve lucky grapes - uvas de la suerte - is meant to ward off bad luck, but only for those who can finish the grapes before the clock finishes the 12 strokes at midnight. Possibly based in several traditions, the custom spread from Spain to Central and South America, where, in some places, it's called doce uvas.
In Chile, some folks celebrate with a spoonful of lentils at midnight, which is said to bring financial success in the coming year. Some Chileans eat three spoonfuls - one for love, one for health, and one for wealth!
In the American South, for good luck in the coming year, revelers feast on collard greens, black-eyed peas, ham or pork, and corn bread. The greens and peas are symbolic of financial success (folding money and coins), the ham or pork symbolizes prosperity, and the corn bread symbolizes gold and wealth.
Smooch the One You Want to Smooch All Year
One of the first mentions in the US of the custom of kissing your beloved at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve was in January 1863, in a New York Times report on the city's festivities. The article detailed this as one of many customs celebrated in Germany, which eventually found its way into custom here in America.
During this period in our country's history, German immigrants were seen as "being more respectable than Italians" and other immigrant groups, so more of their traditions were adopted into US culture. History professor Alexis McCrossen says this is due to the "super uptight" influence the Puritans had on the culture of the times.
It's unclear where the tradition of kissing at midnight on New Year's Eve actually came from, but many think it came from German and English folklore. Their tales illustrate the importance of the first person you meet after the stroke of midnight in a new year, and what occurs during that interaction; they believe it sets the tone for the whole year.
Others think it's derived from the Scottish tradition of Hogmanay, during which party-goers try to kiss every person in the room before the end of the 12 bells at midnight. Other historians say the custom goes all the way back to the drunken Roman festivities of Saturnalia on the year's longest, darkest night, Winter Solstice.