Friday, December 30, 2016

New Year's Eve Traditions...

This year wasn’t a very good one for me. I’ve had family situations to deal with and then in November, I lost my dad, which meant the holidays weren’t very jolly for me. As a result of all of this stress as well as trying to stay on track with work, my reading has suffered. However, I am already back reading and have finished one and am reading another. Reviews will return with the New Year. In thinking about the New Year and hoping it will bring better times, happier events, and I’m hoping less stress, I wondered about some of the traditions we associate with it. I’ll bet you wonder about them too.

December 31st is the last day of the year and as we know it, New Year’s Eve. It’s a night of celebration for some eager to see the old year go, sadness for others because it might be saying goodbye to memories of better times, or it might just be a continuation of the holiday happiness that December brings. I always try to think of it with optimism, that the New Year will bring more good times, good health, prosperity, and new adventures. I generally don’t celebrate it in any particular fashion but do see it as a new beginning.

For many, it’s a night to throw a party, attend a gathering, toast with champagne, and exchange good wishes for a Happy New Year. I’m all for that but never seem to do more than just watch the clock and say, “and so it goes.” How about you? How do you celebrate?

In England, when the clock strikes midnight (actually the New Year doesn’t officially begin until one second later and this year, we have an additional second added onto 2016 to correct for the rotation of the earth so it will actually be two seconds after the clock strikes midnight). Well, when it’s official, all across the UK folks cross their arms over their chests, link hands with all those nearby, and sing “Auld Lang Syne.” I’ll bet you sing it every year but never knew what that song was about…did you?

“Auld Lang Syne” is an old Scottish song first written down in 1780 by Robert Burns. Although, it was in existence many decades before that, his transcription got the most attention so it’s most commonly associated with him. “Auld Lang Syne” is from an old Scottish dialect and translated it means “Times Gone By.” This poem/song is about love and friendship in times gone by. When we sing about “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet”, we’re referring to sharing a drink symbolizing friendship.         

In Scotland, this song is sung but the Scots celebrate the New Year with much more revelry and drinking, and usually for longer than one night. They celebrate Hogamany, which traditionally lasts for a day or more into the New Year. Sounds good to me…a bigger party. Since Christmas had been banned in Scotland for a very long time and they worked on through the days following the Winter Solstice, the Scots’ only time to truly celebrate was when the New Year rang in. So they would ensure their debts were paid, the house cleaned, and when the clock struck midnight, they’d sing Auld Lang Syne, and celebrate with drink and merriment…it was and still is one of the rowdiest New Year’s Eve celebrations in the world. I mean they get really rowdy. 

The Scots also practiced the tradition of the first footing. 
First Footing or the first foot in the house after midnight is still quite common across Scotland. To ensure good luck for the house and the family inhabiting it for the New Year, the first foot should be a dark male. He should bring with him symbolic pieces of coal to ensure the house be warm, salt and shortbread to ensure the family never go hungry, and a wee dram of whiskey…well, they are Scots. It’s possible the preference for a dark male harkens back to the times of the Vikings. After all, a big blonde stranger arriving at your door with a big axe meant huge trouble and probably not a very happy New Year.

The celebrations usually continue through the 2nd of January, which is an official holiday in Scotland. There are fireworks galore, more drinking, and merriment to ensure the New Year starts off right. I guess the Scots know how to do it up right! Happy Hogamany!

Here in the US, we usually watch the ball descend in Times Square…no matter where we are or what partying is happening, everyone seems to stop and watch. But where did that tradition come from? Well, it seems it might have been more about promoting newspapers than anything else.

Come Saturday night, millions will watch the most famous New Year's Eve celebration in the world—the ball drop in Times Square. Well, it seems it was all the idea of a man named Adolph Ochs, the son of Bavarian Jewish immigrants. After the European revolutions of the 1840’s, his parents, Julius and Bertha Levy Ochs, immigrated to the US and lived in Knoxville, Tennessee before the Civil War. As war approached, they moved to Cincinnati, where Adolph was born, and a few years later they moved back to Knoxville. At first, all was well, Adolph’s father prospered as a merchant. They lived in a large house, and Julius Ochs was a prominent citizen, a justice of the peace, and a leader of the Radical Republican Party. In fact, he helped found Knoxville's first synagogue, Temple Beth-El. Then came the economic collapse of 1867, and the Ochses had to move into a cheaper and much smaller home. The sons had to go to work. Adolph, being the oldest, got a job with the local Republican newspaper, the Knoxville Chronicle, which was then located on Market Square. He began as a paperboy, but eventually worked his way up to apprentice printer.

By the time Adolph was 19, he had done some writing as well as printing, and was now rather sure he could run a paper himself. At the time, Knoxville was overloaded with newspapermen but Adolph had heard about a struggling newspaper in Chattanooga called the Chattanooga Times. With the help of some investors, he bought it and hired several members of his own family to come help him run it, including his father. Adolph turned it into a very successful newspaper.

In 1896, Adolph got wind of another failing newspaper called the New York Times, and it was for sale so he bought that one too. Using his experience in Knoxville and Chattanooga, Adolph made it into a very successful newspaper and added features like the book review and the weekly magazine. He changed the newspaper, and he changed the map of Manhattan as well. He moved the Times to the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenues, which was a very busy place but not yet famous. He persuaded the city to give it its own subway stop, and in 1904, Adolph renamed it Times Square after his newspaper. (Before that, it was locally known as Longacre Square.)

Now Adolph Ochs liked the idea of celebrating a holiday in a big public way. He also liked to promote the Times, and New York so he decided he wanted to celebrate a holiday that was a holiday for everybody. He picked New Year’s Eve, and originally celebrated the arrival of midnight with fireworks only that drew complaints. So he came up with a quieter and more legal way since fireworks were also banned in New York. In 1907, based on a method of signaling ships in the harbor, they lowered a giant electrically lit ball along a rooftop mast on top of One Times Square. In an era when electric lights were still new to the public, seeing them move was a remarkable sight. Moreover, in the right mood and on a particular night in December, it still is…

Happy New Year Everyone! 


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