Ottawa Journal for the Week of December 29, 2021 – January 02, 2021
DAVID TILSON, MP for Dufferin-Caledon
The celebration of the New Year is today a major social event in most countries around the world,symbolizing a time for fresh starts and renewed optimism. In the West, we mark the advent of the New Year with fireworks, music festivals, late-night parties and gatherings, and for those in rural Quebec, ice-fishing until the early hours of January 1. Outside the West, however, there is tremendous diversity in how cultural groups mark the first day of the year.
A unique New Year’s Eve tradition exists in Ecuador, where people create elaborate effigies called “Años Viejos” (Old Years) out of straw, newspaper, and old clothes with masks made of papier-mâché. These often represent political figures whom the creator of the effigy may have disliked or disagreed with and are burned at midnight to symbolize the burning away of the old year and the beginning of the New Year. Individuals also perform a number of rituals for their own welfare, including eating twelve grapes before midnight (making a wish for each grape), wearing yellow underwear to attract positive energies for the New Year, and walking around the block with a suitcase (which is said to bring the person the journey of their dreams).
In Japan, New Year’s Eve is known as Omisoka. As New Year’s Day is the most important day of the year for the Japanese, people are often occupied with cleaning their homes and businesses, so as to bring in the New Year in a fresh, clean state. On the evening of Omisoka, families come together to watch popular television programs and eat “toshi-koshi” noodles – a tradition that is based on people’s association of eating the long noodles with “crossing over from one year to the next.” As midnight approaches, Shinto shrines ring out the old year by striking their bells 108 times, one for each of the earthly desires that is believed to cause human suffering. Most significant is the breaking of dawn the next day, as people flock to temples and shrines – regardless of religious affiliation – to celebrate Oshogatsu, Japan’s biggest holiday.
Interestingly, the New Year’s Eve traditions in Russia and countries of the former Soviet Union are similar to ours for Christmas in North America, but without any religious connotations. Families in Russia and Ukraine install spruce trees in their homes and in Eastern Europe, there is the traditional character of Ded Moroz, who is similar to Santa Claus except that he is clothed in robes and is pulled not by reindeer, but by troika (a three-horse drawn sled). Families often gather on New Year’s Eve for feasts and large celebrations and give presents to friends as well as informal acquaintances. New Year’s is sometimes considered as a sort of “pre-celebration” for the Eastern Orthodox living in Eastern Europe, for whom Christmas is celebrated on January 6.
Traditions for New Year’s Eve vary significantly across the world, but regardless of country, culture, or religion, it is a time for all of us to look forward to the future with joy and optimism. However, you choose to bring in the New Year, I wish you the very best in 2009!