• Hashem Khalidi, Anna Korienieva, Ceyhun Əliyev

The Institute Presents: Traditions of New Year's

With 2020 now approaching, and all of us for sure dosy at the food and drink, we at the Institute want to once again present you with some of the traditions our members followed for New years! A moment to reflect on the past and the future. WIth this in mind, we hope you all had a wonderful time with friends and family and that your 2020 is just as good as the last year and better!

Dressing up as Bears in Romania!

Source: CultureTrip © Alex Dima

Noemi Akopian – Yerevan, Armenia

In Armenia, the holiday season begins on New Year's Eve. On December 31, families and friends sit down for big holiday feast and exchange gifts at the stroke of midnight.

Since most people live in apartment buildings, Santa Claus cannot climb down the chimney to deliver presents to the children. So, he either leaves them on the doorstep, rings the bell and disappears or places them under the Christmas Tree at night, after everyone has gone to sleep.

On the following days, friends and relatives visit each other and celebrate with traditional Armenian and Eastern European dishes.Tables are set with roast pork, dolma.(stuffed grape leaves), blinchiks (crepes with ground beef), salads, cheeses and cold cuts, fruits and mixed nuts, and various sweets and pastries. In the weeks leading up to the New Year, cities are bustling with people doing their holiday shopping, admiring the lights and decorations and sampling the treats at the Christmas Market. It is a lively time of year, and it is all about love, celebration, abundance and reconnection. We wrap up the holiday season on January 14, which is known as the Old New Year.

Ceyhun Əliyev - Tovuz, Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan gradually started celebrating New Year next year after the Bolsheviks seized power in April 1920. Before that, “Nowruz Holiday” was primarily considered as the new year of the country (which is celebrated as an awakening of the land during some days of spring months, mainly in March). Interestingly, following this Azerbaijanis have attributed almost the same importance to both of the holidays.

A typical Azerbaijani family would celebrate a new year with a table full of diverse meals: a capital salad, plov (rice) dishes, Caucasian kebab and many more... However, Azerbaijanis do not get upset when they “overeat” on the New Year eve and possibly get health problems the next day.

Surprising visits by friends and acquaintances are the fun and welcomed part of hospitable national tradition. Inherited from the Soviets also, though most Azerbaijanis are formally Muslims, they drink on the important days as in New Year and justify: “it is okay to drink once a year”.

One can hear the sound of fireworks occasionally, around 10 days before the December 31, a major firework day. Some of fireworks are irritatingly as small as a toe and can not be seen thus be ready to be scared by the noise if one booms around you. Environmentally speaking, in the recent past the winter has passed by almost with no snow on the ground. This is annoying for me especially, since I used to see in my childhood high snow height during the New Year eve at least!

Ana Popova – Ruse, Bulgaria

On the last day of the year, Bulgarians prepare an amount of food, sufficient to feed a small village...for each table. We drink and eat with friends and family whilst waiting for the new begin to come. After the countdown is over, there is one melody playing all around Bulgaria – the Dunavsko Horo (Danube Dance). Everyone – young and old, performs the traditional folklore dance. We hold each other by the hand and connect in a circle. Bulgarians uphold this fun tradition on the main square in every town and village and is a particularly amusing view if the dancers come from different parts of Bulgaria. Southerners have their own way of dancing the Horo, which is different than the one we dance is Northern Bulgaria (on the Danube River).

As soon as no one can walk anymore after two to three hours of different Horo dances, everybody gathers back around the table. Each child has prepared a cornus stick called Survankitsa. Children decorate them with objects symbolising fertility and wealth – popcorn, different dried fruit and coins – and tap people on the back. During this ritual, children recite poems wishing health and happiness for the upcoming year.

A Survankitsa, Source: Radio Bulgaria
Valentin Luntumbue - Brussels, Belgium

Like with many other things, it is difficult to clearly pinpoint what part of Belgium's christmas traditions are distinctly Belgian. Westernmost edge of the Germanic world pressing upon romance France, all the while facing the English Channel, Belgium's winter celebrations are somewhat syncretic. Thus, lucky Belgian children receive presents both from Sinterklaas and Santa Claus. A rather postmodern experience.

Holiday season spans from Saint-Nicholas day on the 6th of December to the Epiphany a month later, or all the way to the Chandeleur on the 2nd of February. The catalogue and nature of celebrations vary from region to region. In quite the same way there are many ways to be Walloon, Flemish or Bruxellois, there a nebula of ways to celebrate the holidays.

Amongst the fractal identities of Belgium, there is however a constant I can identify: though Belgian society is deeply patriarchal, the family unit is often dominated by matriarchs around which the family congregates during the holidays. In my family, our matriarch was my great-grandmother, who hailed from a little Flemish town close to Leuven, a place of pilgrimage where the Virgin Mary performed miracles in the late Middle-Ages. Although noone in the family was ever religious (or Christian for that matter), we'd all gather around our matriarch around Christmas.

After living through two World Wars, my great-grandmother died aged 96 in suburban Brussels. With its matriarch gone, my family, never really observant, slowly ceased to care for the holidays. They don't gather together anymore. As for many Belgians’, she was our family's keystone.

Michael Li - Paris, France

As in many other places, the New Year’s celebrations in France start on December 31st. On New Year’s Eve, French people usually organize dinners or take part in all-night-long parties with their relatives. It echoes the so-called “Réveillon de Noël”, a family gathering that takes place the night before Christmas, revolving around food excesses of all sorts. The key moment of the night is the transition between the year that ends and its successor when the room resonates loudly with wishes of happiness and success for the year that begins at midnight sharp. Another strong moment is the presidential allocution on national TV that always takes place at 8pm on the 31st. Since the use of fireworks is quite strictly regulated, they are relatively rare in France, and are often organized by local authorities rather than by private citizens, unlike in Germany. Firecrackers however will rather frequently break the silence of that winter night, reminiscing of the ancient habit of casting away spirits that would avail this moment of temporal transition to sneak into the world of the living and haunt them.

A specificity of the New Year in France lies in the so-called “étrennes”. This term refers to the small amount of money that kids coming back into their family in Savoy would be offered in order to express the family’s joy to be coming together again. Nowadays it refers to an amount of money that may be given by employers to their employees so as to celebrate the year of cooperation that has passed and that to come.

Timothée Albessard - Paris, France

December 25th. Time out, liver full of liquor. “From now one, I will be more reasonable.” And here comes New Year’s Eve.

It is the perfect echo to Christmas’s resounding shout. French youngsters mostly go out with their friends in order to recover from their former family duties. This evening usually takes you on to a breathtaking pace. One of the key moments is the presidential speech at 8pm. Mr Macron’s televised address will be rather expected this year, since many people want him to announce a partial withdrawal of his pensions reform.

Then, getting down to brass tacks. We either throw a house-party with our closest friends, or try and attend each and every dinner we have been invited to in an endless, cheering marathon. Suddenly, the clock strikes 11. If you are in Paris, the Eiffel Tower will glitter the night away for an hour, echoing the glowing sparkle of your glass of champagne. Since fireworks are usually difficult to attend because of the crowd, we might as well have them in a bottle.

Midnight. After a collective countdown, everybody bursts out happily “Bonne année!” (“Happy New Year!”), before decidedly undertaking the evening’s second marathon: la bise. You have to kiss everyone on the cheeks (the amount of kisses depending on the region, one kiss on each cheek in Paris for instance) while casually ignoring the avalanche of text messages from unknown relatives your phone keeps vibrating with. Now that you have ticked all the right boxes, the party may begin, with a very specific goal: living the first day of this new year in the soothing haze of its eve.

Abhivardhan - Allahabad, India

Although the world celebrates the New Year on the basis of the Gregorian calendar, India uses a lot of different calendars, to mention Saka (according to the Indian Government), Vikram Samvat (for Hindus), Hijri (for Muslims) and so on. I use both the Gregorian and Hindu calendars, so I celebrate 2 New Years with my family. Now, every January 1, we celebrate the New Year with a mix of cultural activities, which is sort of Indo-Anglo cuisine-making, prayers and special activities.

The Hindu New Year is generally celebrated in either in the two ways across India - i.e., via Deepawali in October or November every year (the festival of lights and crackers) or Holi (the festival of colours and joy) in March or April every year. While Deepawali is celebrated during the evening via celebrating the crackers and worshipping the Lord Ganesha, Lord Rama & the holy Ramacharitmanas, we enjoy Holi through an evening pyre we hold every night before the day of Holi, where we burn an idol of Holika, a demoness as a part of mythological folklore. In India anyways, it is quite fun and we mix up different cultures at times.

Lucia Nafziger - Cologne, Germany

“The same procedure as last Year, Miss Sofie?" "The same procedure as every year, James!” When celebrating New Years in Germany, these lines are just as much part of the night as sparkling wine and fireworks! New Year’s would not be the same without the British black-and-white comedy sketch “Dinner for One”, also known as “The 90th Birthday”.

Watching the butler James walk around the table (or rather stagger as the dinner progresses) and toast for each of Sophie’s guests, whom she has outlived due to her considerable age, is both heart-warming and screamingly funny. In contrast to Sophie’s four-course meal, the most common dinner on New Year’s is raclette, where cheese is melted on a table-top grill together with vegetables and meats. It is fun to prepare and you can eat it for hours and hours!

After the dinner don’t be alarmed if you get showered with sweets like pigs and ladybugs, made out of chocolate or marzipan, as they are to bring good luck for the new year! Shortly after midnight we try to look into the future with “Bleigießen” (lead pouring). You heat up a piece of metal (usually tin after heading lead was banned in 2018) and quickly throw it into cold water. The shape it takes on is supposed to tell you what the year ahead is going to bring. This is my all-time favourite fortune-telling technique as the often very peculiar shape of the tin is definitely open to interpretation, so you can lay it out however you want to!

Bleigießen Kit, Source: Wikimedia

Hashem Khalidi - Thessaloniki, Greece

In Greece, families and friends gather before midnight celebrate this beautiful event. During that time, the vasilopita is served. The vasilopita is a cake with a hidden coin that is indicates good luck and fortune for the upcoming year to whoever finds the coin.

Then usually the youth would go out to celebrate the beginning of the year with their friends and loved ones. Some other traditions include the Kalanda, meaning Carols in Greek, where children gather from the morning to sing and wish their neighbours a good year ahead.
Philippe Lefevre - London, United Kingdom

In the UK New Years is all about indulgence and ushering in the New Year with a bang. Like many other nations, we use fireworks to their logical extreme, lighting up the sky with more explosives than the Trident Nuclear Missile system. Our main tradition comes in the form of Auld Lang Syne, a wistful melody about old friends and remembering where we come from. The poem itself is an old tune, with Robert Burns himself stating that it was not he who created it, but merely wrote it down. A Scottish song, it also mixes well with the revelry that the Scottish tradition of Hogmanay brings.

Hogmanay is a broad-church term for many different customs across the British Isles, but generally involves gift giving and alcohol, as any good celebration must have. A particularly modern tradition involves watching Jools Holland, a musician, and his end of year bonanza of Music and fun as they help usher in the New Year with the countdown. To this end, I wish everyone a Happy new Year and may you never forget auld acquaintances.

Elena Ruxandra Seniuc - Suceava, Romania

Why Romanians dance the bear (and sometimes the goat)

“Dance, dance, bear/ Cause blackberries will ripen/And you’ll get even fatter/And dance in people’s homes Jump, jump, higher and higher/Like the year that’s departing!/And bow down well/To greet your host gracefully!” - Lyrics found here

The Dance of the Bear is a traditional custom performed in Romania’s eastern region of Moldova. Staged between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, it symbolizes the death and rebirth of time, announcing that a new year is yet to come. Traditionally, the dance includes men and women of all ages dressed in real bear skins that dance to the rhythm of drums and flutes. One costume can weight up to 50 kilograms and most of them are inherited in the family. They are decorated with two huge red tassels attached to each shoulder and sometimes iron bells to create a more powerful atmosphere. During the ceremony, the bear looks up, standing up straight; during the dance, the bear leans forward, shaking its skin alternatively to the left and to the right, swinging from one side to the other, while enthusiastic civilians acclaim them. The masters of ceremony are usually men dressed in red military clothes and they submerge the bears into a long-taming process, whereas the musicians are dressed in traditional folk attire. Similarly, the goat dance can be found in other regions of Romania.

(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Maria Ludovica Pizzuti- Rome, Italy

In Italy New Years is a day to celebrate with good food and your family and friends. We use fireworks at midnight, and drinking prosecco too. It is very common to go to restaurants if you are waiting for the New Year with your family. On the other hand, with friends we are used to have a house party until midnight, with a huge dinner that we call “cenone” (“big dinner”). Lately, traditionally Italians goes to the main squares of the big cities and there are lots of concerts and DJ sets in every corner. Other typical traditions include playing cards and playing tombola, a kind of Italian board game. The first day of January, we hold a huge lunch with family, similarly to Christmas day. Having said that, I hope you all a Happy New Year and may you all have fun.

Diego Sánchez - Lima, Peru

Definitely, New Year’s Eve is a celebration the “City of the Kings” (“la Ciudad de los Reyes”) and its inhabitants never miss whatsoever. In the recent years, some families, rather than passing the Eve in the city, prefer to travel to the beaches’ nearby Lima to spend this holiday (in either the south or the north of the city) profiting from the summer. However, regardless of this location choice, the twelve grapes and the traditional dinner cannot be missed in any circumstance.

Usually, the twelve grapes that represent each month of the year are placed inside a glass in which you later serve champagne. This tradition aims to make a wish per grape you eat before drinking, and toast to everyone you celebrate with the New Year. Nowadays, this tradition continues despite many youngsters opting to celebrate it with their friends rather at the beach, a club, a disco, or in the countryside! The only missing ingredient needed to make this end of the year and beginning of the new one an unforgettable experience, is the colour yellow! The entire city turns yellow from Dec 31st to Jan 1st, in a fashion believed to spread good luck and success with regard to the New Year.

Lima on New Year's Eve Source: NewYearsEveBlog

Anna Korienieva - Lugansk, Ukraine

New Year’s celebrations in Ukraine are similar to what many people in most countries do for Christmas – decorating a tree, dinners and exchanging presents. The day of the 31st December is all about cooking and setting everything ready, in short, holiday hustle and bustle. The dinner starts late, at about 9 or 10 o’clock, and some might take a short nap before it.

On the table you can find different set of dishes varying from family to family, however essential though is a potato salad called “olivje“. In the background the TV is playing numerous entertainment shows and classics from Soviet-era movies. The culmination is yet to come – everyone is looking forward to raise their glass when the bells start to chime.

After the clock strikes 12 the festive atmosphere is projected in as a volley of fireworks, which makes everyone come outside into the frosty winter night. Some people gather in the city squares drinking champagne and singing New Year’s songs. Most stay up late, and the next day you can hardly find a soul in the streets. In the morning, or rather in the afternoon, children check what Ded Moroz, (similar to Santa Claus), put under the tree. The New Year has begun.

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