12 Weird and Wonderful New Years Eve Traditions
It is the morning of New Years Day 2018 and I am having a ‘loony dook’.
Any idea what is?
Let me break it down for you.
Dook is a Scottish term meaning to dip or bathe. While loony is what I must be, because here I am, running, willingly I might add, into the freezing Firth of Forth in South Queensferry, just North of Edinburgh.
Here I am dunking myself into the water which is icy because it is of course January and the Firth of Forth feeds into the North Sea. Which is also, not very warm.
And I am not alone.
There are around a 1000 of us, in various states of fancy dress, partaking in a Hogmanay tradition that began as a joke, and has in recent years taken off in popularity, with proceeds from the ‘dook’ going towards the RNLI. Who incidentally are on standby in the water, which is rather comforting when the water renders you almost too numb to stand.
I am shivering now just typing about it.
But that wasn’t the only tradition we took part in while celebrating Hogmanay in Edinburgh in 2018.
Another was the annual torchlight procession. A parade of people march to bagpipes through the town centre while bearing lit beeswax torches. It happens on the 30th December, and is quite a site to watch.
Or join in, like we did, and feel like an Olympian for a short while. Well an Olympian stop starting through a crowd of people who at times forget they are carrying a flame. If you are going to participate, avoid excessive hairspray and do not wear an expensive coat. I’m still trying to get the wax drips out three years later.
The roots of this particular tradition are a little uncertain but it is believed to date back to the Pagan Hogmanay parties of centuries ago. Back then bonfires were lit and animal hide was used to wrap around sticks and produce smoke to ward off evil spirts.
Of course some spirits are welcome at Hogmanay, mainly of the whisky variety. Which incidentally is one of the gifts that the ‘first footer’ must bring when they come a knocking just after midnight. Ideally it should be a dark haired man, as for some reason light haired men are considered harbingers of ill fate…
They should also bring coal, bread, salt and a coin, each gift said to represent something which you would like the New Year to bring, in this case warmth, food, flavour prosperity and of course good cheer from the whisky.
As Alex is neither dark or light haired, and I am excluded on the basis of my sex, we have yet to attempt this one.
We have, however, eaten 12 grapes at midnight.
Or at least attempted to. This Spanish tradition is a lot more difficult than it sounds, particularly when trying to chew and swallow them all before the final chime of the bells, or risk ill luck for the rest of the year. The traditional idea is to consume one grape for each toll, ruminating on the significance of each grape for each month to come. We went for the stuff–them–all-in at once approach and hope for the best.
Another Spanish or Latin American New Years custom is to correspond your underwear colour according to your wishes for the year ahead. Red if you’re looking for love, yellow for wealth and green if you want good health.
Elsewhere in Latin America, Columbia to be exact, potatoes are used as a kind of vegetable ‘magic eight ball’. One peeled, one half peeled and one unpeeled are placed underneath your bed during the day on December 31st. Then at midnight, one of the potatoes is chosen at random to ascertain your economic future. Unpeeled means riches await, half peeled is an average year, while peeled doesn’t look very good at all. I’m not quite sure what my cleanliness obsessed husband would make of half peeled vegetables on the floor of the bedroom? Don’t think we’ll be trying that one.
I much prefer the Philippine tradition of placing 12 round fruits in a basket on New Year’s Eve to ensure good fortune and happiness. You can go further at midnight and take a bite from each, but why be wasteful? Plus a nice basket of fruit is a great head start on any New Years health resolutions. Smoothie anyone?
Moving away from food traditions, one thing you are guaranteed to see or hear on New Years Eve, particularly if you’re in one of the major cities – and it’s not 2020 – is fireworks. Back in 2001 I witnessed the Sydney fireworks from a harbour side spot in the Rocks and they are every bit as epic as they look on TV. I think it’s the iconic backdrop of the Sydney Harbour bridge that does it.
And why fireworks at midnight? Why to ward off evil spirits again of course. Any kind of light or loud noise will do to scare the unspeakable things lurking in the dark.
Which explains why, when I was a child, we used to go outside and bang wooden spoons on saucepan lids at midnight, as did all of our neighbours. We did try fireworks once, but it didn’t end well when the catherine wheel escaped from the wooden post.
Do not try this at home.
Over in Ireland, it’s not just pots and pans that traditionally were used to create noise, but a loaf of bread as well. Combining the chasing of spirits with ushering in good luck and prosperity, ensuring there was plenty of bread on the table for the year ahead.
While bread bashing is a somewhat unusual tradition, possibly the most common is the New Years Eve midnight kiss. This one has been traced back as far as Ancient Rome, when every year a celebration would be held called the Festival of Saturnalia. It is likely a lot of kissing happened here, because of cause Roman parties aren’t known for being the most chaste, and this eventually filtered through to German and English folklore, where it is said a kiss at midnight is necessary in order to avoid a loveless year ahead.
Of course in these socially distanced times, it is best to forgo the midnight kiss and instead turn to the 12th and final tradition of throwing open all your doors and windows to usher out the old year and clear the way for an untainted, promising new one.
Now that is one tradition I will certainly be embracing this year.