New Year’s Traditions

by Johnny Carlton

Copyright 2012 Johnny Giesbrecht

Johnny Carlton is a writer of suspense thrillers available as e-books at


The end of the old year and the beginning of the new is celebrated annually in many countries.  It’s sort of a birthday party in honor of the world, or maybe of the world’s civilization.  It’s fun, but just when we’re beginning to accept that we’re living in 2012 we’ll have to start on a new calendar and try to get used to living in 2013.

It seems that long ago the start of the year was celebrated with the first new moon that comes after June 21, but the Romans kicked off their year on March 1.  Julius Caesar, however, changed that to January 1.  In England the Anglo Saxons used December 25 as their start of the year, but that got changed to January 1 after the Norman Conquest.  Then, in the Middle Ages, Christians in England got into beginning their year on March 25, and this went on until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752.  At that time the people who decide such things once more agreed that the start of the New Year should be January 1.

Most of us have some distinct memories, pleasant and otherwise, of New Year’s celebrations that we’ve come through.  On the pleasant side might be a midnight kiss from some special person, and the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” while holding hands with friends and neighbors.

I always wondered what the meanings of some of the words of that song–in its Scottish brogue–were, for instance its title and the line, “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet.”   Eventually I learned that “auld lang syne” means something like “the good old days.”  As for “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,” I always suspected that it meant having a social shot of booze, and it turned out I was right.

The song is from a poem by Robert Burns.  Fortunately we (the people I’ve celebrated New Year’s with) didn’t sing all the words, for if we had we’d have been even more confused.  For instance, one chorus in the original poem goes:

“We twa hae run about the braes, and pu’d the gowans fine; but we’ve wandered mony a weary fit, sin auld lang syne.”

Translated into today’s North American English, it’s something like this:

“We two have paddled in the stream, and picked the daisies fine; but our weary feet have wandered far since the good old days.”

A widely held tradition is the making of New Year’s resolutions.  I have never been able to understand why anyone would.  It is so strange that one is tempted to come up with a conspiracy theory such as: maybe every January 1 the secret “New Year’s Mind Manipulation Branch” of the federal government dumps a “resolution chemical” into our water supply.  Anyone drinking that water immediately has an overwhelming desire to make positive lifestyle changes.  Studies have shown that the effect of the chemical wears off before the end of January.  A few people, like myself, are completely immune.

Let’s examine the problem in a more realistic manner.  Why on earth would anyone become aware of wrongdoing in their lives only at the end of a year and the start of a new one?  That doesn’t make sense, so let’s assume that people also take notice of their weaknesses on other days.  But if someone decides, say on July 31, that he should quit smoking, why would he feel compelled to go on with the deadly poisoning process for another six months before doing something about it?  In the same way, if someone hasn’t been treating his wife right throughout spring and summer, why would he wait until the new year to correct the matter?–since he knows that by the time the snow flies he could be dead from a rolling pin concussion.

New Year’s Resolutions are a strange mental disease, but other countries have traditions for that time of the year that are just as weird:

The Danes get up on chairs and jump down off them, then break their old dishes and leave the shards on their friends’ doorsteps.  The amount of broken dishes roughly indicates how many friends they have.

In Belarus (wherever that is) unmarried women try to find out who will get married first in the new year by having a rooster and a heap of corn set in front of each of the hopefuls.  Whichever cock of the walk sashays over to the corn first indicates the lady who will be wed first.

And in South America, at New Year’s, people wear brightly colored underpants.  If they want the year to bring them wealth, they wear yellow ones; if they want love and romance, they wear red ones.



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