The last day of the year is usually greeted with mixed emotions—joy and anticipation on the one hand, melancholy and regret on the other. Some celebrate by attending midnight church services, while others congregate in public places like Times Square in New York City, or Trafalgar Square in London, Glasgow's George Square or Edinburgh's Iron Kirk to count down the closing seconds of the old year. In the United States, people congregate at parties, some lasting all night, and many people spend New Year's Eve in front of the television watching other people celebrate. In recent years, celebrations in time zones all over the world have also been televised, so viewers can celebrate several times in one night, if they wish.
In Scotland, December 31 is known as Old Year's Night, or HOGMANAY. Although there are a number of theories about the derivation of the name, the tradition it refers to involves handing out pieces of oat-cake to poor children, who go from door to door calling out “Hogmanay!” In the United States, the Scottish song “Auld Lang Syne,” with lyrics by poet Robert BURNS, is sung at almost every New Year's Eve celebration, while in London, the Scots at St. Paul's Churchyard toast and sing.
In Denmark the New Year is “shot in” with a thunderous explosion of fireworks, rockets, and Chinese pistols. In some villages, young people play pranks such as those done on HALLOWEEN in the United States.
Iceland has bonfires to clean up trash and elf dances, because elves are believed to be about on this night and might want to stop and rest on their way.
Neapolitans believe it brings luck to throw pots and dishes out the windows at midnight.
On the last two days of the year in Japan, a fire watch is implemented to prepare for the New Year, their most important holiday. Young men gather into groups then go to separate parts of the towns. They carry a clapper which they sound every few yards, crying out, “take care with fire.”
Armenian families spend the night at home feasting. During the celebration, the neighbors, one at a time, lower a basket of presents down the chimney, then it is the recipients’ turn to go to their neighbors.
Romanian boys used to go around to their neighbors with a plugusorul, a little plough, which may be a remnant of the Roman OPALIA, the festival to the goddess of abundance, Ops.
Later they changed to a homemade drum that sounds like a bull, which is what pulls the plough through the meadow.
They ring cow bells and crack whips and recite hundreds of verses of their country story at the top of their lungs.
See also FIRST NIGHT; LADOUVANE; OMISOKA.
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