Every culture around the world celebrates the beginning of a New Year, even if the actual dates of that year may vary. Each culture has unique traditions but it’s interesting to compare and see how much cultures share in common. For example, many Mexicans and Cubans celebrate New Year’s Eve by eating a grape with each chime of a clock’s bell during the midnight countdown. A wish is made as each grape is eaten. In another tradition, Mexicans make a list of all the bad or unhappy events over the past 12 months. Before midnight, they throw the list into a fire. The belief is that all negative energy will be removed as the New Year begins. At the same time, thanks is given for all the positive events of the last year and, then, Mexican families express their hope that good luck will continue into the next year.
In Japan’s Buddhist temples, the temple bells ring 108 times at midnight to represent the 108 mental states or unwholesome acts that the people must leave behind and disavow into the New Year.
Many Italians traditionally eat lentil stew when the church bells toll midnight. The round lentils are said to represent gold coins and eating one spoonful per bell is said to bring good fortune.
Gold coins show up in several cultures’ traditions, For example, in Greece, people cook a pie flavored with almonds. They wrap a gold coin in aluminum foil and bake it inside the pie. After the midnight fireworks, the family cuts into the pie and serves it. Whoever finds the wrapped coin is the one who will be especially lucky in the coming year.
People enjoy sharing these and other cultural traditions. Our classrooms, workplaces and community organizations are filled with people who have strong attachments to their family rituals. Finding ways to let people share the stories of their holiday celebrations and even incorporating some of their rituals sends a strong signal that everyone is welcome. Simply ask, “How does your family celebrate the New Year?” and “Are these rituals unique to your family or part of a larger culture or country’s celebration?” Always be ready to share your traditions as well so that no one person or group feels singled out.