After ferreting out weird Christmas celebrations around the world last week, it seemed natural for me to delve into how those countries celebrate the new year.
South America: Last week I reported folks in this part of the world traditionally wear red underpants to welcome the new year. Apparently, only those who seek love wear the color red. Others more interested in money wear yellow. At some point they are going to figure out that these two wishes are not mutually exclusive. Some enterprising entrepreneur will come up with a combination of red and yellow. Is that so tough to figure out?
Denmark: Danes are fun people when they are not writing novels about serial killers. The Danes jump off chairs at midnight New Year’s Eve to ward off evil spirits (you thought they were making a Danish pastry?). They also break dishes and throw them outside of a friend’s door. The person with the most broken dishes outside of their door has the most friends (and the most debris to sweep up).
Philippines: In the Philippines, they are obsessed with all things round. Folks wear clothing with polka dots and consume round fruits (I can’t make this up). The round shape reminds them of coins, which symbolize prosperity for the new year. My favorite round object is a roast pork sandwich with a slice of provolone with long hots on a Kaiser roll.
Spain: The Spanish consume 12 grapes for good luck before the clock strikes midnight. We tested that custom with a couple of friends a few years ago and all we got were cramps the next morning.
Belarus: The single women in Belarus compete in games on New Year’s Eve, and the winner is judged to be the first that will marry in the coming year. My favorite game these ladies play is the one where you set a pile of corn in front of each participant and then see which one the rooster approaches first. There is no truth to the rumor that the winner has to marry the rooster (although some of these women could pile corn as high as the moon and not even a rooster would approach them).
German and Austria: Always known for their sense of humor, these folks use molten lead like fortunetellers use tea leaves. They pour the molten lead into a bowl filled with water and watch the shapes that form to predict one’s fortune for the coming year. If the shape forms into a ball, it means good luck. An anchor means that you will need help in the next year (meaning you’ll become one of Romney’s 47 percent). If your shape forms a cross, you will die in the next 12 months (no use wishing this person a Happy New Year).
Chile: I always figured Chileans were fun people, but now I have to wonder. In Chile, folks go to mass (so far, so good), but then they troop to the nearest graveyard, set up chairs and greet the new year with the dead. I prefer a good steak, a glass of champagne and a couple of Mummers playing “Alabama Jubilee.”
Puerto Rico: In Puerto Rico, people throw buckets of water out of their windows to cleanse the spirit. They might want to consider going over to Denmark and helping to clean up the broken dishes, which might work just as well.
Mexico: New Year’s Eve in Mexico is considered the best time to communicate with the dead. Even the drug cartel puts away its guns and runs out to buy an Ouija board.
Scotland: A Scottish festival is held in Hogmanay where the men swing balls of fire over their heads in a celebration dating back to the time of the Vikings. It’s a little known fact that it was Leif Ericson, who actually composed “Great Balls of Fire,” which was then Jerry Lee Lewis recorded many years later. Note: Ericson could not play the piano with his elbows.
Ecuador: In these parts, each family burns a scarecrow at midnight. Personally I thought one of them went too far when they burned Ray Bolger.
Germany again: The Germans watch the same television show at midnight every year. No one knows how the tradition began. Many of them hate the show. It’s kind of like Americans watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” each year to celebrate the holidays and thinking the ending is going to turn out differently.
Cardella: I used to have a unique way of greeting the new year. Each year I spent a lot of money on a date for New Year’s Eve only to have her bail on me before the stroke of midnight. One of them in 1961 made up the excuse, “I’m having a stroke and I just need to go into the bathroom right away to take an aspirin.” I saw her the next morning at the parade with some good-looking guy and marveled at the restorative power of aspirin. Funny — she never wished me a Happy New Year. It wasn’t as wild as sitting in a cemetery at midnight, but it was my tradition.
I resolved my New Year’s Eve dilemma by getting married, ensuring a date for these last 48 years. I have noticed she keeps eyeing the bathroom at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
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