Heidi Trautmann

Heidi Trautmann Column 17 - Let’s talk about culture and… the NEW YEAR


With the New Year around the corner, I didn’t have to look far for a topic to talk about. Every country in the world has its own traditions to celebrate the very short moment of passing the threshold between the years. Some make a big occasion out of it, others sit at home surrounded by family and friends, but generally a lot of money spent for rockets is sent up into the universe.  Just imagine, you would look down onto the world shortly before midnight and you would watch the people getting up and going out into the streets, into their gardens and looking up to the stars as if the New Year would come from there, from the space which for most is still filled with wonders of the unknown, and while the globe turns you can follow the masses get up and send champagne corks and bubbles, and rockets in all colours to greet the representative of time, the New Year. Point Zero, a tiny moment of just one minute, is celebrated and the world is alight, a moment when everything stands still, wars, I hope, people embrace each other and are for one tiny moment in harmony with everything. One moment in a year, then they turn their backs to each other again.


Over Vienna you would hear the sound of the Pummerin, the bell of St. Stephen's Cathedral. The sound is broadcasted into every house, followed by the Donauwalzer ("The Blue Danube") by Johann Strauss II. Many people dance to this at parties or in the street. Large crowds gather in the streets of Vienna, where the municipal government organises a series of stages where bands and orchestras play. Fireworks are set off by both municipal governments and individuals.

In Germany you would find everybody going to parties or elegant balls (Silvester). Every year Berlin hosts one of the largest New Year's Eve celebrations in all of Europe, attended by over a million people. The focal point is the Brandenburg Gate, where midnight fireworks are centered. Since 1972, each New Year's Eve, several German television stations broadcast a short comedy play in English (recorded by West German television in 1963) entitled Dinner for One. A line from the comedy sketch, "the same procedure as every year", has become a catch phrase in Germany.  Bleigießen (pouring lead) is another German New Year's Eve custom, which involves telling fortunes by the shapes made by molten lead dropped into cold water. Other auspicious actions are to touch a chimney sweep or have him rub some ash on your forehead for good luck and health. Jam-filled doughnuts with and without liquor fillings are eaten. Finally a tiny marzipan pig is consumed for more good luck.

In Italy, New Year's Eve is celebrated by the observation of traditional rituals, such as wearing red underwear. An ancient tradition, no longer existing, was disposing of old or unused items by dropping them from the window.

The traditional meal often includes zampone or cotechino (a meal made with pig's trotters or entrails), and lentils. At midnight, fireworks are displayed all across the country. A lentil stew is eaten when bell tolls midnight, one spoonful per bell. This is supposed to bring good fortune; the round lentils represent coins.

In Turkey, I learnt from friends when we were living aboard our sailing boat, numerous decorations and customs traditionally associated with Christmas and Bayrams are part of secular New Year's Eve celebrations in Turkey. Homes and streets are lit in glittering lights. Small gifts are exchanged, and large family dinners are organized with family and friends, featuring a special dishes. Even though Turkish people generally don't celebrate Christmas, decorating Christmas trees is a very popular tradition on New Year's Eve. In Turkey, Santa Claus is associated with New Year's Eve instead of Christmas.  In Turkish Cyprus it is more or less the same, people go to parties, or wait for the New Year on public places with  music bands playing through the night. Families have their special dishes at home or go out to chic places to celebrate amidst their many friends and family.


So has every country its own traditions, in Spain and Spanish speaking countries 12 grapes are eaten for each month of the year; in Louisiana our family served black eye beans soup for luck; in many other countries pennies are hidden in freshly baked bread or cakes; happy the one who bites on it. Special dishes are served or avoided respectively, everything has a meaning on the road to happiness. Special music, dances and songs are a must, so in English speaking countries the Scottish song by Robert Burns:


"Auld Lang Syne"

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And auld lang syne.


It would be very interesting to organize an international festival with representatives from each country of the world showing their ways and songs, and when the clock strikes to announce that the gate is open between yesterday and tomorrow, all members would kiss each other and make promises or resolutions: to economize so that municipalities can clear their accounts; to work an extra hour for all government employees to clean the streets of Nicosia, for example.


Happy New Year to All.

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