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Traditions of New Year's Eve

a vintage clock nearing midnightIt’s almost time to bid goodbye to 2016 and usher in a New Year. While we celebrate with parties, noisemakers and dropping a large glass ball in Times Square, our ancestors had a different way of embracing the calendar change. In the distant past, it wasn’t simply a matter of sharing memories and recalling events. The ‘old year’ had to be ushered out properly so the New Year could bloom and thrive. This was often done by carrying a straw dummy through village streets, setting the effigy on fire, then burying it or drowning it in a stream. Spirits freed by the winter solstice were driven away or destroyed by the act, allowing the New Year to arrive unimpeded.

Villagers might also turn the night into a street masquerade by donning masks and costumes in order to conceal their identity from malevolent forces. Disguised, they embarked on a night of “town rattling” in which they banged on drums, pummeled the sides of houses with sticks, and raised a hullabaloo. The racket sent the ghosts of the old year fleeing. Imagine a combination of Madri Gras and trick-or-treat with an excess of tricking going on!

New Year’s celebrations around the word took various forms. In the Netherlands, people burned Christmas trees in street bonfires and set off fireworks. In Australia, where our Aussie friends are in the midst of summer, January 1st is celebrated with picnics, rodeos and surf carnivals. Residents of Scotland still engage in the practice of “First Footing” while celebrating Hogmanay, the Scottish name for New Year’s Eve.

This involves visiting friends and family members, often taking small gifts of food and drink. The custom dates back to ancient times when the first person who crossed the threshold after the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve determined the type of luck the household would enjoy in the coming year. A dark-haired visitor brought the best luck, while those with blond hair were far less favorable. In the eighth century, Scotland was invaded by the Vikings, probably why blond-haired visitors were frowned upon for First Footing.

However you celebrate New Year’s, embrace the chime of laughter, the fun of reminiscing and the exhilaration of fresh possibility when the clock strikes midnight. There is no need to “rattle away” the ghosts of the past. We learn from both phantoms and memories. Time moves forward regardless, but I like to think it enjoys taking us along on the ride.

Candy Ortenzio
Executive Administrator
Brownstone Real Estate Co.