Celebrating the New Year (or Diwali or Norooz or?)

As one, the crowd at the party counts down from ten to one before cheers go up, champagne corks pop, balloons fly and lots of folks sing "Auld Lang Syne" off-key. These are the new year rituals well familiar to denizens of Western cultures, but in other nations things are different, albeit just as much fun. Look no further should you need a little trivia on celebrating the new year in India, Iran, China and more.

"Five, four, three, two, one!" That familiar countdown comes once a year, on that night of sheer optimism, a night of new beginnings and rebirth, a night to be remembered: for once again, the new year is here.

If you're from the West, you'll be participating in the countdown until New Years Eve breaks. But what will they be doing in other corners of the globe?

Anyone with a passing knowledge of Japanese food is familiar with miso soup. In Japan, this soup is eaten to lend its consumer good fortune and prosperity in the new year. To further increase the possibility of luckiness, Japanese people often string a rope across their door on the night before the calendar turns.

Chinese New Year is well-known worldwide thanks to its general pageantry and fun. Fireworks bang and pop for twenty-four hours, lanterns are alit wherever possible, and the nighttime is made lighter by the gleaming full moon by which the new year is set. Nearly every major popular center around the world plays host to some sort of celebration with the twisting dragon wending its way through streets of fire.

India, despite differing traditions throughout the country to welcome in the new year, is generally full of color, with people wearing bright bright oranges and yellows and reds and purples to enliven the holiday. Known as "Diwali," this festival of lights is by far the largest celebration among Hindus in the country. The holiday dates back approximately twenty-five hundred years, and a focal point is the jasmine flower.

In Cambodia, Thailand and some other areas of the Far East, a fish (typically carp) is caught and subsequently released in the hopes that this show of mercy will cause the fates to look favorably upon the charitable ones in the new year.

In Vietnam, the new year's entrance is calculated from the lunar calendar into a full-blown week-long festival known as "Tet Nguyen Dan." All is put into order for the new year: Houses are repaired, new clothes bought, friendships renewed and outstanding debt settled in order to set the table for the following year. This is the holiday on which to exchange gifts in Vietnam as well, and special importance is placed on the symbolism of the home's first guest

Persian traditions for the new year are based, like most non-Western cultures, in the theme of rebirth. Long before the new year breaks, preparations are made for "Norooz." Houses are cleaned (spring cleaning, perhaps...?) all over Iran before their New Year's Eve, called by a name roughly translating as "Red Wednesday," on which it is believed malevolent spirits of ancestors visit the unlucky living. People wrap themselves in shrouds, raise a din by banging on pots, and go from house to house asking for treats in a ritual akin to Halloween. After New Years Eve breaks, noodle soup, nuts and fruit are eaten to make dreams come true.

Please allow this writer to wish you, after the five-four-three-two-one excitement, a happy Diwali, a prosperous Tet Nguyen Dan, a wonderful Norooz and just generally a Boldog Uj Evet.

In order to make wishes come true, it is customary to prepare special foods and distribute them on this night. Noodle Soup a filled Persian delight, and mixture of seven dried nuts and fruits, pistachios, roasted chic peas, almond, hazelnuts, figs, apricots, and raisins.

Many cultures have distinct culinary traditions. In several Central/Eastern European nations (Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, Hungary, Romania), fish soup is eaten on New Year's Eve, while at least a few lentils should be eaten on New Year's Day in order to achieve prosperity in the new year.

In Canada, a bunch of (probably a bit tweaked) people jump in freezing water and call themselves "polar bears" for the day. In some German-speaking countries (notably Austria and Switzerland), some wear costumes. And in Scotland, particularly in villages, barrels of tar are alit. (Perhaps in Scotland, there are no hangovers.)                     

For the majority of the world's population, New Year's Day is not even celebrated on January 1. Indeed, its origins in ancient Rome had the day in the springtime, and many still do so, though ironically, those areas formerly falling under the control of the caesars have taken on the January date. Springtime does seem the more logical time for a celebration of rebirth...                     

Traditions continue, though, in these springtime New Year's celebrations. Chinese New Year is fairly well-know worldwide thanks to its general pageantry and fun. Fireworks bang day and night, lanterns are lit everywhere, and the nighttime is always accented with the light of the full moon by which the holiday's date is set. In some countries of the Far East, fish are a focus, but in opposite fashion to Europe's. Often, fish are caught and released in a show of gratitude to gods of myth. And Persians, for whom New Year's Day can fall at any time of year, use sprouting grains to symbolize rebirth.

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