The old year is drawing to a close. Time again for a whole bunch of New Year’s customs and traditions, some of which have been a part of more end-of-the-year celebrations than I care to remember. At this time of year, one can’t help but wonder: How do we Austrians actually celebrate New Year’s and how is it different from the traditions in other countries? So I had a closer look…
Austrians dance the waltz
It sounds like one of the worst clichés about us – and like something right out of the Sissi films with Romy Schneider – but it’s my favourite New Year’s tradition: At the stroke of midnight, when the giant bell of St. Stephen’s Cathedral chimes the hour and the Vienna Philharmonic starts in on the The Blue Danube, every proper Austrian heads for the dance floor and begins moving to 3/4 time. If you find the natural turn to the right too boring, you might opt for the reverse cross in which both partners turn to the left. True professionals strut their stuff by rotating on the spot on an icy surface. Those who still haven’t sprained their ankle by this time can enjoy the fireworks display with a bottle of bubbly.
France goes swimming
Revellers in the Bretagne traditionally welcome the new year by taking a refreshing dip in the sea. This already costs a lot of will power during the summer, so imagine how it must be in the deepest winter. A good thing to know is that the French wish each other a happy new year before midnight on the 31st. It’s bad luck to do so on the 1st.
Health and happiness in Poland
In Poland, people end the year by putting their lives in order. As a reward for all their effort, they can expect health and happiness in the year to come. Before the start of the new year, it is recommended to pay off your debts and fill up the larder. But don’t wash your floors, or you may just wipe away all the good luck. The most important thing to remember is to look sharp for New Year’s Eve – better yet with a brand-new dress. Love and luck will be your reward.
Grapes in Spain
Just before midnight, many people in Spain gather at public squares all around the country to celebrate a rather unusual New Year’s ritual. For each of the twelve times that the bell chimes midnight, they eat one grape and make a wish for the coming year. Whoever doesn’t finish all their grapes by the time the clock strikes twelve will face a year full of hardship. The timing of the ritual is based on the chimes of the clock on the city hall in Madrid. Each chime echoes for a period of three seconds, which means that the community grape feast begins 36 seconds before midnight.
Mayhem in Denmark
A Danish tradition on New Year’s Eve is to break a whole lot of dishes in front of your friends’ and relatives’ doors. This ritual is a symbol of friendship and camaraderie and is supposed to bring your acquaintances good luck in the year to come. An unwritten rule is: the more shards of broken cups and plates in front of your door, the more luck you will have in the new year.
With this knowledge of international customs, nothing more stands in the way of a lively New Year’s Eve. Now I’ve just got to decide which party to go to. That, too, is one of the oldest problems at this time of year.
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