With New Year’s Eve just a few days away, many of us are gearing up for a celebration. Whether those celebrations are quiet evenings at home watching the ball drop on TV while sipping un taza de chocolate or full-on parrandas under a big glitzy ball with a bunch of other decked out revelers, each of us will ring in 2012 in our own way and watch others around the world do the same.
In Brazil, thousands gather on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro on New Year’s Eve. New Year’s in Brazil actually marks the beginning of the summer holidays, which end by Carnival in March. Many dress in white to bring good luck and eat lentils, which are believed to signify wealth. Visit the beach at Copacabana to view a magnificent firework display, travel to São Paulo for the famous Corrida de São Silvestre, or enjoy a day of live music at Fortaleza. In some regions, people host a ceremony dedicated to the goddess of water, Yemanja. A sacrificial boat is filled with flowers, candles, and jewelry, and pushed out to sea from Ipenama.
Chinese New Year
Based on the lunar calendar, the Chinese New Year “Yuan Tan” takes place between January 21 and February 20. The customs of the Chinese New Year are rich in symbolism. Kumquat trees, peach blossoms, and tangerines are good luck. Clothes and decorations are in red because it is associated with joy and happiness. Firecrackers are meant to frighten away evil spirits. The nine-day celebration begins with a feast and a ritual homage to one’s ancestors, while visits to friends, neighbors, and relatives mark a time to let go of old grudges. Perhaps the most spectacular part of the celebration is the street parade of dancing dragons and lions. It takes 50 dancers inside the body and head of the dragon to make it twist and turn down the crowded street to everyone’s delight.
The harvest festival in Swaziland (a country in Southern Africa) is called Newala or “first fruits.” The ceremony can last up to a month and includes the collection of water from the major rivers by a group of Swazi water officials, and the gathering of certain shrubs by boys who have reached puberty. Warriors chant sacred songs and dance around the nhlambelo, the king’s sacred enclosure. When the king emerges, he also dances and offers his warriors pumpkin to eat, signifying that it is time for the new crops to be eaten. At the end of Newala, a bonfire is held, which represents the burning of the previous year.
Mexicans celebrate el año viejo by eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight, which symbolize twelve happy months in the new year. The colors used to decorate homes and parties also carry significance: red for improvement of lifestyle and love, yellow for employment conditions, green for better financial circumstances, and white for improved health. Another tradition is to bake Mexican sweet bread with a coin hidden in the dough. The person whose slice contains the coin is believed to have good luck in the coming year. Some also make a list of all the negative events from the current year to be thrown into the fire before midnight. Of course, there is also a lot of eating and partying to be had, including street festivals in Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square.
Though practices, traditions, and languages vary widely, celebrating a New Year surrounded by those we love seems to be a universal custom.
¡Feliz Año Nuevo And Happy New Year to all of our Being Latino readers!