With New Year's upon us, here's a look at some of the good luck rituals from around the world. They are believed to bring good fortune and prosperity in the coming year.
The suckling pig is the symbol for good luck for the new year. It's served on a table decorated with tiny edible pigs. Dessert often consists of green peppermint ice cream in the shape of a four-leaf clover.
The people of Mesopotamia celebrate the New Year festival known as Akitu in the springtime. At this time they celebrate the arrival of the spring rains and the renewal of nature, as well as the renewal of the community. At the festival the story of the creation is read out to remind people of the order of the universe and how it had risen out of the struggle between Marduck the god of heaven and Tiamut goddess of the powers of chaos.
The Bahai people (Part of Iran) have their own calendar consisting of nineteen months of nineteen days plus a couple of extra days between the eighteenth and nineteenth months. They have however adopted the Iranian custom of beginning the New Year in the spring equinox. The day begins at sunset rather than midnight, and the New Year celebrations are held during the evening of March 20th.
In Belgium New Year's Eve is called Sint Sylvester Vooranvond or Saint Sylvester Eve. The réveillon or New Year's Eve family parties are thrown. At midnight everyone kisses, exchanges good luck greetings, and drinks toasts to absent relatives and friends. The cities, cafés, and restaurants are crowded with people who bid farewell to the Old Year. New Year's Day is called Nieuwjaarsdag at this time of the year the children save money to buy decorated paper for writing holiday greetings to parents and god parents.
In Bengali they celebrate New Year on the 13th or 14th of April, which is the first day of the month that they call Baisakh. They clean and decorate their houses in preparation for the New Year. They use flour to paint patterns on the ground out the front of their houses, in the middle of the design they place an earthenware pot, decorated with a red and white swastika which is a religious symbol, and filled with holy water and vermilion. Also inside the pot they place a mango tree branch, which must consist of five twigs and a number of leaves. The pot symbolizes good fortune for the family.
In Brazil the lentil is believed to signify wealth, so on the first day of the New Year they serve lentil soup or lentils and rice. In Brazil on New Year's Eve priestesses of the local macumba voodoo cult dress in blue skirts and white blouses for a ceremony dedicated to the goddess of water, Yemanja. A sacrificial boat laden with flowers, candles and jewelery is pushed out to sea from Brazil's famous Ipenama beach in Rio de Janeiro.
The Burmese New Year, which is based on the Fixed Zodiac system, falls on or around April 16. In Burma there is a three day New Year festival called Maha Thingyan, which is celebrated with prayers, fasting and fun. During the festivities, buildings and temples are washed, and people throw water over each other. This is partly to welcome the heavy rains of the coming monsoon season. The Burmese New Year festival is held to celebrate the New Year, by performing meritorious deeds and spraying one another with Thingyan water.
The people of Cambodia use the Indian Calendar to calculate the start of the New Year festival. The festival starts on the 12, 13 or 14 April according to the Gregorian calendar and lasts for three days. Cambodian New Year's Eve is the day before whichever date it is and it lasts three days. It is called Chaul Chnam Thmey, which means entering the New Year.
The Chinese New Year "Yuan Tan" takes place between January 21 and February 20. The exact date is fixed by the lunar calendar, in which a new moon marks the beginning of each new month. For the Chinese New Year, every front door is adorned with a fresh coat of red paint, red being a symbol of good luck and happiness. Although the whole family prepares a feast for the New Year, all knives are put away for 24 hours to keep anyone from cutting themselves, which is thought to cut the family's good luck for the next year.
In Denmark it is a good sign to find your door heaped with a pile of broken dishes at New Years. Old dishes are saved year around to throw them at the homes where their friends live on New Years Eve. Many broken dishes were a symbol that you have many friends. New Year's Eve is framed by two important items broadcast on television and radio, respectively the monarch's New Year Speech at 6pm and the striking of midnight by the Town Hall Clock in Copenhagen, which marks the start of the new year.
In Egypt the New Year is a public holiday and has a very festive atmosphere. Although they know in advance when the New Year begins they still observe the custom of the new crescent moon must be seen before the official announcement is made. The sighting is carried out at the Muhammad Ali mosque which is at the top of the hill in Cairo. The message is then passed on to the religious leader known as the Grand Mufti and he proclaims the New Year. The men who have been waiting outside the mosque wish each other a happy New Year by saying "Kol Sana We Enta Tayeb!"
The British place their fortunes for the coming year in the hands of their first guest. They believe the first visitor of each year should be male and bearing gifts. Traditional gifts are coal for the fire, a loaf for the table and a drink for the master. For good luck, the guest should enter through the front door and leave through the back. Guests who are empty-handed or unwanted are not allowed to enter first.
In Germany people would drop molten lead into cold water and try to tell the future from the shape it made. A heart or ring shape meant a wedding, a ship a journey, and a pig plenty of food in the year ahead. People also would leave a bit of every food eaten on New Year's Eve on their plate until after Midnight as a way of ensuring a well-stocked larder. Carp was included as it was thought to bring wealth.
The more popular name for the Vietnamese New Year is Tet, where as the formal name is Nguyen-dan. Tet is a very important festival because it provides one of the few breaks in the agricultural year, as it falls between the harvesting of the crops and the sowing of the new crops. The Vietnamese prepare well in advance for the New Year by cleaning their houses, polishing their copper and silverware and paying off all their debts.
At the first toll of midnight, the back door is opened and then shut to release the old year and lock out all of its bad luck. Then at the twelfth stroke of the clock, the front door is opened and the New Year is welcomed with all of its luck.
In Haiti, New Year's Day is a sign of the year to come. Haitians wear new clothing and exchange gifts in the hope that it will bode well for the new year.
An old Sicilian tradition says good luck will come to those who eat lasagna on New Year's Day, but woe if you dine on macaroni, for any other noodle will bring bad luck.
In Spain, when the clock strikes midnight, the Spanish eat 12 grapes, one with every toll, to bring good luck for the 12 months ahead.
The Peruvian New Year's custom is a spin on the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes at the turn of the year. But in Peru, a 13th grape must be eaten to assure good luck.
January 1st is an important date in Greece because it is not only the first day of the New Year but it is also St. Basil's Day. St Basil was one the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church. He is remembered for his kindness and generosity to the poor. He is thought to have died on this date so this is how they honor him. A special New Year's bread is baked with a coin buried in the dough. The first slice is for the Christ child; the second for the father of the household and the third slice is for the house. If the third slice holds the coin, spring will come early that year.
In Hungary they burn effigies or a scapegoat known as "Jack Straw" which represented the evils and misfortunes of the past year to burn on New Year's Eve. Jack Straw is carried around the village before being burnt.
The Muslims have their own calendar which is based on the cycles of the moon. The calendar consists of twelve months but, only has 354 days unlike other calendars such as the Gregorian or Jewish calendar etc. For this reason the Islamic New Year moves eleven days backwards through the seasons each year. Muharram is the first month of the Muslim year its first day is celebrated as New Year's Day. The Islamic New Year throughout the world is held quietly, without the festive atmosphere of other New Year celebrations.
The first day of the lunar New Year is called Sol-nal. This is for families to renew ties and prepare for the new year. New Year's Eve: People place straw scoopers, rakes or sieves on their doors and walls to protect their families from evil spirit sin the new year. Everyone dresses in new clothes, the following morning, symbolizing a fresh beginning, and gathers at the home of the eldest male family member. Ancestral memorial rites are held, then the younger generation bows to elders in the family. They wish them good health and prosperity in the coming year.
The Japanese New Year Oshogatsu is an important time for family celebrations, when all the shops, factories and offices are closed. The Japanese decorate their homes in tribute to lucky gods. One tradition, kadomatsu, consists of a pine branch symbolizing longevity, a bamboo stalk symbolizing prosperity, and a plum blossom showing nobility.
In Poland New Year's Eve is known as St Sylvester's Eve. This name according to legends arose from Pope Sylvester I who was supposed to have imprisoned a dragon called Leviathan who was supposedly able to escape on the first day of the year 1000, devour the land and the people, and was suppose to have set fire to the heavens. On New Year's Day, when the world did not come to an end, there was great rejoicing and from then on this day was called St Sylvester's Eve.
The Portuguese pick and eat twelve grapes from a bunch as the clock strikes twelve on New Year's Eve. This is done to ensure twelve happy months in the coming year. In Northern Portugal children go caroling from home to home and are given treats and coins. They sing old songs or Janeiro's which is said to bring good luck.
Romans prepare for the New Year festival which is known as January Kalends by decorating their houses with lights and greenery. The festival lasts for three days, during this time they hold feasts and exchange gifts which were carefully chosen for their luck-bringing properties these include such things as sweets or honey to ensure sweetness and peace as well as Gold, Silver or money for prosperity. Lamps for a year filled with light.
In South Africa they ring in the New Year with church bells ringing and gunshots being fired. For those in the Cape Province New Year's Day and Second New Year's Day are full of a carnival atmosphere as there are carnivals where people dress in colorful costumes and dance in streets to the sound of drums.
When the clock strikes midnight they eat 12 grapes one with every toll to bring good luck for the next 12 months of the New Year. Sometimes the grapes are washed down with wine. Theater productions and movies are interrupted to carry out this custom.
In Swaziland the harvest festival is called Newala or "first fruits" ceremony and takes place at the end of the year. It is a celebration of kingship, traditional has it that the king of Swaziland, the Ngwenyama or "Lion", has powers that are mystical and is believed to embody the Swaziland prosperity and fertility, and therefore it is said that he must have many wives and father many children.
The Thai New Year festival is called Songkran and lasts for three days from 13 to 15 April according the Gregorian calendar. The customs are many such as people throw water over one another, under the guise of that it will bring good rains in the coming year and all the Buddha statues or images are washed. They visit the monastery to pray and offer gifts of rice, fruit, sweets and other foods for the monks.
The kiss shared at the stroke of midnight in the United States is derived from masked balls that have been common throughout history. As tradition has it, the masks symbolize evil spirits from the old year and the kiss is the purification into the new year.
New Year in Pakistan is known as Nowrooz or New Day. This day begins in March and traditionally represents the rebirth of nature after the long winter. The New Year begins the instant the sun is no longer in the astrological sign of Pisces and enters Aries. It is celebrated as a time of renewal. One of the customs of Nawrooz is the practice of burning piles of wood. The bonfires are a symbol to destroy any remaining evil from the previous year.
Norwegians make rice pudding at New Year's and hide one whole almond within. Guaranteed wealth goes to the person whose serving holds the lucky almond.