• Institute for a Greater Europe

The Institute Presents: Traditions of New Years 2020-21

And there we have it, closing the end of what can only be called a tumultous year. At this point we want to give thanks to all of those people who have helped us through this year! It's been a busy one for us all at the Institute, as we've taken such steps as moving concretely to Brussels, becoming a registered NGO, and publishing the second volume of our journal. To all those who have read, written, or supported us in any way, thank you! May 2021 be as good as 2020 was bad, and brinh much happiness to you and your family.

From Philippe


Thanks to all those who have contributed to this series for the past few years, we've added a few more this year for you to look at!

Armenia - Noemi Akopian

Azerbaijan - Ceyhun Əliyev

Belarus – German Carboni

Belgium - Valentin Luntumbue

Bulgaria - Ana Popova

Denmark – Kian Vandsted

France - Michael Li

Germany - Lucia Nafziger

Greece - Hashem Khalidi

India - Abhivardhan

Italy - Maria Ludovica Pizzuti

Ireland - Stefanie Fox

Peru - Diego Sánchez

Romania- Elena Ruxandra Seniuc

Ukraine - Anna Korienieva

United Kingdom - Philippe Lefevre

Armenia - Noemi Akopian

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.

Azerbaijan - Ceyhun Əliyev

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!

Belarus – German Carboni

In Belarus, New Year is the main celebration of the winter season. This is in stark contrast with neighbouring countries and regions like Lithuania, Poland or Western Ukraine.

Despite the religious awakening that followed the collapse of the USSR, the country holds dear its Soviet traditions. Belarus does not have a Christmas tree, but a New Year one. It can be found in Belarusian public squares and households. Belarusian children wait for the New Year to find gifts beneath it.

These gifts are brought by “Grandfather Frost” (Дед Мороз), accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka (translated as the Snow Maiden). In the day leading to New Year, it is common for Belarusian children to go to parties and where they can meet and dance with actors impersonating the two magical figures.

In general, people meet with their families and loved ones for the New Year’s Eve. Huge dinners are organised and people drink together until, right before midnight, they watch the Presidential televised speech. It finishes right before midnight, when after the countdown, they set off fireworks, exchange gifts and drink (even more). Concerts are usually organized by the public authorities in the main cities and many go to meet the New Year with other compatriots.

Yet how differently this year celebrations are going to unfold it is yet to be seen.

Belgium - Valentin Luntumbue

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.

Bulgaria - Ana Popova

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 A Horo in Brussels, by Daznaempoveche CC BY-SA 3.0

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 Survachka. 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.

Denmark – Kian Vandsted

Like many other places in the world, New Year’s Eve is a big celebration in Denmark. For many Danes, it all starts by watching the Queen’s speech at 6 pm. It is a longstanding tradition that the monarch gives a speech and the Queen normally takes this opportunity to summarise the main events of the year. In more recent times, it has become rather popular to bet on what words she will include in her speech. Words such as “pandemic,” “ovid-19,” and “distance,” are not surprisingly some of the favourites for this year’s speech. As a way to balance the high-calorie Christmas food, the traditional New Year’s Eve dinner consists of boiled cod fish with mustard sauce. However, you can enjoy some “kransekage” (Danish marzipan wreath cake) for dessert. Already after the dinner, you will hear that Danes are starting to light up their fireworks, which will intensify as the clock approaches midnight. Exactly twenty minutes before midnight, many Danes watch the old skit, “Dinner For One” (also known as “The 90th Birthday”), which is broadcasted by the Danish national broadcaster, “DR”, who attempted to change this tradition in

1985 by not showing the skit, but they immediately went back to “the same procedure every year” after they received a record-number of complaints. Just before midnight, Danes are standing on their chairs or on the couch as it is a tradition that we jump into the new year when the clock strikes 12 to avoid bad luck. Then the new year has arrived and it gets celebrated with more kransekage and champagne (or other kinds of sparkling wine).

The Queen's Margrethe II of Denmark Speech

France - Michael Li

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.

Germany - Lucia Nafziger

“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!