15 Ways to make your New Year great! Traditions and customs from around the world.

Most of the traditions connected with New Year's Eve and New Year's Day could be summed up in a single sentence:

What you do is what you'll get!

In many cultures, what you do for the first hour of the New Year signifies what you’ll do the most of for the next twelve months! (Does sleeping count?) Here are fifteen of the most common superstitions.

1. Working hard on New Year’s Day will ensure a whole year of grueling labor! But if you do a small token task successfully – something related to your employment – this will set the tone for achievement. (I'm definitely planning to write!)

2. If the house is clean by midnight on Dec. 31st, it’ll be clean for the entire next year. (Do I have to sort the closets too?) Don't sweep on New Year's Day or you'll sweep out all your good luck! Don't do dishes or laundry either or you'll "wash away" a member of your family in the coming year.

3. In many countries, it's believed that all debts should be settled before the New Year. Don’t pay back loans or lend money on New Year’s Day however, or you’ll be paying out all year long!

4. If all your pockets and purses and wallets have coins and dollars in them by midnight, you’ll have plenty of money in the new year. (Note - it doesn't have to be large denominations - a penny and a one dollar bill will do it!) Holding a piece of gold or silver in your hand at the stroke of midnight will also bring prosperity. Some people place coins on windowsills and the tops of doors too.

5. If you wear new clothes on New Year’s Day, more new clothes will come your way. (Does that include purses and shoes?)

6. No crying, fighting, arguing, name-calling or general negativity on New Year’s Day or you’ll have strife and tears all year long.

7. Don’t let valuable things leave your house on New Year’s Day or luck and fortune will go with them. The general belief refers to things like money and jewelry, but some people believe that nothing – not even garbage! – should leave the house on New Year’s Day. Take the empties to the recycling bin some other time!

8. Make sure the cupboards and pantries are full on New Year’s Day, in order to ensure abundance the rest of the year.

9. Be careful with the dishes. If anything breaks on New Year’s Day, ill luck will follow. And if you break a mirror, the bad luck will be doubled. None of this applies, however, if you're Danish. They save up dishes all year to throw at the doors of their friends and neighbors. At the end of New Year's Day, the higher the pile of broken crockery on your front step, the more loyal friends you have.

10. Working on New Year’s Day will ensure a year filled with grueling labor. But if you do a small token task – something related to your employment – successfully, it’ll set the tone for achievement in the coming months.

11. When midnight approaches, open all the windows and doors to let the Old Year leave. In some traditions, just opening one window or door will work. Releasing the Old Year makes room for the New Year. In Puerto Rico, people toss buckets of water out the windows to help to clean out the old year.

12. Kissing at least one person at midnight ensures that love, friendship and affection will continue. To not give out a kiss indicates a long, cold and lonely year. (That’s dire – I’d kiss both my pugs to avoid a fate like that!). Kissing your spouse or your fiance is even better, ensuring that you'll live in love and happiness during the entire year to come.

13. Bad luck and evil spirits must be driven away in order to make room for good fortune. This belief is at the root of using noisemakers to welcome in the New Year. The more noise you can make, the better. In early pioneer America. the firing of guns into the air was practiced. Church bells are often rung at midnight in many countries for the same reason.

In Iran, pots and pans are banged together. And the Chinese can be thanked for introducing fireworks to New Year's celebrations to chase away demons and bad fortune. In Wales, singing door to door does the job. My favorite is an Irish tradition which calls for banging on the walls and doors with Christmas bread to frighten evil spirits and invite good ones into the house. (Finally - a good use for that fruitcake!)

14. In keeping with the "getting rid of the old to make way for the new", residents of Ecuador burn pictures of things they don't want. Each family also creates a scarecrow or puppet which is called the "Año Viejo" or Old Year. Lists of problems and worries might be stuffed inside the effigies, as well as newspaper, wood and sawdust. Setting fire to these effigies is said to destroy any bad things that may have happened over the twelve months. Jumping over the fire brings extra luck. Versions of this practice can be found in other cultures as well. Burning the old calendar is popular almost everywhere.

15. What you eat is said to influence your fortune for the coming year. It's lucky to eat black-eyed peas, and some say that one pea equals a coin you'll receive. Lentils will work too. But eating cabbage or other leafy greens might be more efficient – they're said to represent bills! Round foods are often synonymous with prosperity. In Spain and Portugal, they eat 12 grapes as the clock chimes midnight, ensuring 12 good months to come.

Foods that form a circle or a ring, such as doughnuts, are popular in Europe. (Homer Simpson would like this one) The shape signifies that the year has come full circle and is now complete.

My wish for all of my readers is that 2014 will bring you many moments of warmth and joy and laughter, and also bring you closer to hopes and dreams fulfilled.  

Dani Harper

Your turn - What traditions did you grow up with? Have you heard of any that aren't listed here?


Last week's Christmas Superstitions included The Good, the Bad and the Scary. This week’s installment brings you some traditions that are downright creepy! They may not be true, but there's bound to be at least a couple that will give you a chill just the same.

Dogs that howl on Christmas Eve will go mad before the end of the year. A candle or a lamp should be kept burning all night on Christmas Eve to avoid a death in the house in the following year.

Instead of water turning into wine at midnight on Christmas Eve, some hold the belief that the water in streams and wells turns into blood! Not only that, if you witness this change, you’ll die within the year!

A Scandinavian belief maintains that it's dangerous to go out on Christmas Eve because of the many supernatural beings that come out of their hiding places that night. Trolls, witches, goblins and ghosts are said to roam freely, including the spirits of the dead revisiting their previous homes. Gifts must be left outside – bowls of pudding and cream, clothes, tobacco and even ale – in order to appease some of these creatures. The most perilous time occurs between cock’s crow and dawn, when supernatural beings are at the peak of their power. To go outside means risking death or being carried off by them, never to be seen again.

Swedish folklore puts a chilling twist on this story. On Christmas Eve, they prepare their dining room with food and ale and blazing fire – and leave it overnight to enable the spirits of the dead to celebrate undisturbed. The family checks the chairs in the morning for traces of earth, proof that the dead have come calling!

Icelandic children lived in fear of being eaten by bloodthirsty ogres living in the mountains. The most ferocious of these was Mother Grýla, who wandered through the village at Christmastime with her evil cat.

Instead of leaving out cookies for Santa, gifts and food had to be left out to appease the ogres. If they didn't like the offerings, they'd eat you. And if you didn't have at least one brand new article of clothing in honor of the season – the cat would eat you!

A once popular parlor game gave everyone an apple after dinner, which was then cut in half across the middle to reveal the pattern of the core. If the core is star-shaped (most apples have this), the owner of the apple will see another Christmas. If the core is a different shape, the owner’s death will occur in the next twelve months! The appearance of a four-pointed cross was worst of all – although what was worse than death is never mentioned.

Parlor games in Victorian England also included telling ghost stories by the fire, while keeping tabs on everyone’s shadow throughout the evening. If anyone’s shadow were to appear headless, that person would die within the coming year.

While most cultures consider it lucky to be born on Christmas, others definitely do not. In Greece, any child born during the 12 days of Christmas is in danger of morphing into a kallikantzaroi, a malevolent half-animal, half-human monster that lives underground most of the year. Such a creature will almost certainly devour his own brothers and sisters!

In Romania, Poland and Moldova, a child born on Christmas Day may become a werewolf. A different variation on this tale is that any child conceived during Advent (when parents apparently were supposed to abstain from such activities) was almost certainly doomed to become a were-animal by the time they reached adulthood. In some Slavic regions, a child be born anywhere between Christmas and Ephiphany will surely become a vampire after death.

To avoid bad luck, all Christmas decorations should be taken down by Candlemas (Feb. 2). However, make sure you clean up after them – every needle left behind in the house from the Christmas tree will cause the sighting of a spirit or a demon in the coming year. Some believe a stray needle or berry will result in a death in the family. (A good case for having an artificial tree!)

The danger isn't over once the decorations are down because a Christmas tree thrown outside will attract the attention of evil spirits and supernatural beings. For proper disposal, the tree must be burned immediately.

An old Breton tale tells the story of a blacksmith who refused to stop working after the church bell had rung for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Suddenly a tall man entered his shop with a scythe that needed mending.

The blacksmith did the work but the mysterious man refused to pay him. Instead, he told the blacksmith to send for a priest because this work would be the last he would ever do. By the time the roosters crowed on Christmas morning, the blacksmith was dead. He had mended the Scythe of the Grim Reaper himself.

Wishing you a merry-not-too-scary holiday season!

Dani Harper