Auld Lang Syne: Exploring New Year's Traditions
Dec 29, 2011
New Year's Day is almost here. While your child may be familiar with many New Year's traditions that are popular in America, does he or she know where they came from? What about traditions from around the world? This is a great chance to explore with your child our culture's history and to learn about other cultures by studying how they celebrate this holiday.
Auld Lang Who?
One of the most popular New Year's traditions that may completely confound your child is the song 'Auld Lang Syne.' Originally written by poet Robert Burns in 1788, the Scottish song is used at many occasions, but it's especially prominent at the start of a new year. The title can be translated directly as 'old long since,' but more colloquially as 'long, long ago' or 'days gone by.' The song's theme centers around friendship and nostalgia. This makes the song appropriate at a time when friends are traditionally gathered and people reflect on the year that is coming to a close.
Another common practice when celebrating a near year is to shoot off fireworks. While fireworks may seem to be a festive way of capping a party, they have a more serious origin. Originally invented in China, fireworks combine fire and loud noises. Both of these elements were believed to ward off evil spirits and cause good luck. To this day, China is known for its impressive fireworks displays on the holiday, though the Chinese New Year falls on a different date than that of the Gregorian calendar.
In reference to a tradition that is entirely American in origin, your child may have wondered why a huge ball drops in New York City to commemorate the new year. Long ago, when watches were less reliable, people would synchronize their timepieces using giant globes that dropped from poles in public areas, marking the precise hour. Adolph Ochs, who opened the New York Times building in Times Square in 1904, copied this tradition to mark the exact end of the year. While the need for calibrating watches has all but disappeared, the tradition has remained.
New Year's Around the Globe
If you're looking to add a little cultural diversity to your New Year's celebration this year, there is no shortage of ideas that can give your child insight into how different nation's mark the day. For example, people in the Philippines try to gather 12 different round fruits, one for each month. While there are a handful of common round fruits, like oranges and cantaloupe, finding 12 unique fruits should challenge your child and test his or her produce expertise. Filipino children also jump as high as they can at the stroke of midnight, believing that this will make them taller.
Spain has its own fruit-themed New Year's tradition that may make a fun game for your child. At midnight, many people try to eat 12 grapes, one timed to each chime of the clock. The goal is to finish the grapes before the 12th chime.
If you have a fire going on New Year's Eve, you can follow Ecuador's lead and burn a picture or effigy that represents something you want to leave behind as you start fresh in the New Year. A related tradition is found in Puerto Rico, where people throw a bucket of water out of a window to symbolize ridding themselves of any bad karma from the old year. Many people also thoroughly clean their homes before midnight, following the superstition that the condition of their home at the start of the year is how it will stay throughout the year, though this may be a hard sell with your child.
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