Sue the Screenwriter || Ringing in the New

Posted in Blogs, Community, Feature, History

January 5, 2017

As a writer, I love research. It always brings me great joy to spend some time cruising the internet as part of a day’s work. Having just finished book two in my Rejected Writers book series, “The Rejected Writers Take the Stage,” I was doing research for book three, which takes place during the holidays. I came across something fascinating: all the different ways around the world that people celebrate the new year.

Over the years, I have observed the ringing in of the new in many different ways, depending on where I lived. Growing up in England and Scotland, we celebrated our traditions in various ways, one of them being first footing. In this Scottish tradition, if the first foot over the threshold of your home in the new year belongs to a dark-haired man or woman, you’ll have good luck for the year to come. These dark-haired people should also bring gifts into the house, including bread, salt, coal, and a coin (silver is considered good luck). Lastly, they should bring a drink (usually whisky). These gifts represent financial prosperity, food, flavor, warmth, long life, and good cheer. The first new foot over our threshold this New Year was my friend Eric, who is indeed dark-haired, so I am expecting great things for 2017, although I didn’t have him turn out his pockets for silver or whisky.

Another tradition, which I loved as a child, was banging on pots and pans. As soon as it struck twelve in our house, my brother and sisters and I would open up our front door and bang pots and pans as hard as we could. I remember as a young child traveling around the neighborhood hammering away on my mother’s cookware, wishing all our neighbors happiness. On researching it, I have learned that noise and fire are seen to ward off evil spirits, which is why people also honk their horns and set off fireworks.

When I lived in Spain during my twenties, I was introduced to the tradition of swallowing 12 grapes, one on each stroke of midnight, to bring luck for the next 12 months. However, I have to tell you that the feat is almost impossible, as people gag their way through the midnight chiming. Though lots of fun, I think I only ever managed around six months of luck each year.

Young people with their own strong opinions bond with a shared plunge into the frigid waters of Double Bluff Beach, but exit quickly once cold reality settles in. (Photo by David Welton)

And of course, here on Whidbey, we have our own tradition: the polar bear plunge. I’m guessing it comes from Nieuwjaarduik (which means “new year’s dive” in Dutch) and is popular in the Netherlands, Nordic regions and even parts of Russia. The idea is that, on New Year’s Day, you plunge into the icy cold water to represent a clean start to the year. Here on Whidbey, we often see a couple hundred brave souls jump into the bone-chilling Puget Sound at Double Bluff beach. Though this is supposed to be good for your health, it’s not something I’m planning on doing soon.

Dogs with warm water-shedding and insulating coats just want to have fun and question the brevity of this strange event, which is over in about 30 seconds. (David Welton)

So, as I continued my book research, I noted that, in other parts of the world, they shift energy in different ways, for example:

  • In Denmark, they throw plates and dishes against the doors of all their friends and family. Here, we sometimes call that “Thanksgiving.”
  • In Belgium, the farmers wish their cows a happy new year for luck. In Romania, farmers also communicate with their cows. However, if they hear the cow reply, it means bad luck for the year.
  • Food is also significant during this time of passage. In Estonia, people eat seven times on New Year’s Day to ensure abundance in the coming year. In Ireland, they beat the walls with a loaf of bread to get rid of evil spirits, and over in Switzerland, they throw ice cream on the floor.
  • Money is another tradition. In Romania, they toss their spare coins into the river for good luck. In Bolivia, coins are baked into bread, and in the Philippines, everything should look round, like a coin, during new year celebrations—from the clothes you wear to the food you serve.
  • In South America, wearing colored underwear determines your fate for the next twelve months. Red underwear means you’ll find love, gold means wealth, and white signifies peace.
  • Throwing things around, especially out the window, is also trendy at the stroke of midnight. In South Africa, they throw furniture out, in Puerto Rico, they throw pails of water out, and in Thailand, they throw buckets of water at each other.
  • Lastly, in Colombia, they carry their suitcases around with them all day in the hope of having a year filled with travel.

So, whatever your tradition was on the stroke of twelve on New Year’s Eve, from wearing colored underwear to throwing dishes, furniture, or water, I hope you have a wonderful year filled with luck, love, and health.

Suzanne Kelman is the author of “The Rejected Writers’ Book Club” and an award-winning screenwriter and playwright. She was a Nicholl Fellowship Finalist at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; was awarded Best Comedy Feature Screenplay at the L.A. International Film Festival; received a Gold Award at the California Film Awards; and received a Van Gogh Award at the Amsterdam Film Festival.


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  1. I guess I’d go with the Philippine’s tradition of round clothes– no shopping as my clothes have to be pretty round to fit me already. Just wanted to say I enjoyed your first book and thought it would make a fun movie. I look forward to your next one.

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