As it's New Years Eve today, I thought I would share some traditions from around the world to see how other Countries celebrate bringing in the new year.
In Austria, New Year's Eve is called Sylvesterabend, the eve of Saint Sylvester (never heard of him!) and a punch made of cinnamon, sugar and red wine is prepared in his honour. On New Year's Day, dinner is a special occasion when roast pork is eaten, as pigs symbolize good luck. Often the table is decorated with little miniature pigs, made of marzipan.
In Brazil, as part of the celebrations there, crowds wearing white gather on the Brazilian beaches to offer gifts to the Goddess of the water, Yemanja, floating flowers and candles out to sea, in the hope she will bring them good luck. As the lentil is believed to signify wealth, the locals then eat lentil soup or lentils and rice on the first day of the new year.
In Denmark it is a good sign to find a pile of broken dishes on your doorstep on the 1st day of January (must try that then!!). Old dishes are saved throughout the year to throw at the doors of friends and neighbours on New Year's Eve. Many broken dishes mean that you have many friends. So there you are - I wish you many broken dishes this New Year's Eve!
In Germany it was the custom to predict the future on New Year's Eve by dropping molten lead into cold water to see what shape it made. A heart or ring shape meant a wedding, a ship a journey, and a pig meant plenty of food in the year ahead. Well, I must remember to molt some lead this evening then! It is also the custom to leave a little food on the plate until after midnight on New Year's Eve, as a way of ensuring a well-stocked larder in the year ahead.
In Hungary, a scarecrow like effigy, stuffed with paper, and known as Jack Straw, is said to embody the evil and misfortune of the past year. He is carried around the village, before being burnt on New Year's Eve.
The Japanese hang a rope across the front of their houses to keep out evil spirits and bring happiness and good luck. At midnight on the 31st December, Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their bells exactly 108 times to drive out the sins of the previous year.
The Portugese 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 year ahead. In Northern Portugal, children go carolling from home to home and are given treats and coins. They sing old songs, which are said to bring good luck.
In Russia, when the Communist Party took power in 1917, they banned the open expression of religion and the celebration of Christmas. In response, the people re-invented the New Year's Eve tradition to include a decorated tree, and introduced a character called Grandfather Frost, who looks very much like the western Santa Claus. Today, Christmas is again celebrated, but New Year's Eve remains the bigger event, with feasting and the giving of gifts.
In Scotland, an old tradition that is still observed today, is that of the first footer. The first person that sets foot in your home on New Year's Day decides the family's luck for the rest of the year. The ideal guest brings a gift of bread or coal, to ensure there is no lack of food or warmth in the home for the rest of the year.
In Taiwan, children who have left home return for dinner on New Year's Eve. For those unable to make the journey, a table setting is placed to symbolize their presence in spirit, if not in body. To ensure the arrival of good health and good luck in the new year, floors may not be swept on New Year's Day, or the bins emptied, for the fear of casting riches out of the door.
I can still remember my dear mum saying that we should never wash clothes on New Year's Day, as, if we did, we would wash our friends away. To this day, I make sure that the washing machine is never on on New Year's Day.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about these traditions from around the world, and I shall raise a glass to all of you when the clock strikes twelve here in England this evening.