Fireworks over the Charles' Bridge in Prague!
Kielbasa? Check. Champagne? Check? A bridge that was not destroyed in WWII? Check. Thousands of people from Italy, France, China, and the USA? Check? Fireworks? At midnight.
I was knee-deep in freezing temperatures, but that’s ok. I could work with the frost. It was nothing a couple of glasses of gluwein and a lot of jumping, couldn’t fix.
As I found myself at the beginning of my trip around the world celebrating in Prague the welcoming of 2009, I realized I was glad I chose this spot. With the Christmas Market still doling out the famous sausage dish (kielbasa) and hot wine, coupled with the thousands of tourists in the Czech Capital there was a sense of unity among nations.
Well, unity until we all tried to head for the Charles’ Bridge. This structure survived WWII and just about survives the onslaught of tourists and Czech’s alike every New Years; it’s the best place to watch the fireworks. On the way everyone jumps into the shops on the corner to grab their champagne, absinthe, or the Czech liquor, Fernet.
Then the count-down begins. Five, Cinque, Cinq….Four, Quatro, Quatre…..three, tre, tre, Two, duo, due….One, uno, une!
But not everyone enjoys their New Years on a bridge. Of course I have never been in New York for New Year’s Eve but, as everyone knows, they drop a ball…in Times’ Square of course!
Sure the New Yorkers drop a ball, but that’s nothing compared to our onion in St. George’s, right?
Neither of those, I’m afraid, touch on the interesting New Years tradition in Peru, however. In this South American country, they dress-up a doll (yes I know machismo is gone for a night) in old clothes and then burn it.
Talk about cleaning your closet! To ensure there are replacements, markets spring-up catering to everything you need. New clothes not an option? Then at least new underwear is!
But, of course, yellow underwear is the only colour you want if you need happiness and luck (good thing that’s my favourite colour!) or red if you want love or green for, of course, money.
Red, green and….white? Well those colours will have you wishing: “Buon Capodanno!” That’s what I heard in Florence as I celebrated a New Year before starting my semester of studying in these Renaissance-lined streets. Of course the greeting came with the crescendo of bottles crashing onto these streets (perhaps a hangover from the Southern tradition of throwing your old things out of the window showing that you were ready for the new).
We didn’t dodge the bottles until after a massive fiesta! La Festa di San Silvestro to be exact. For my experience it was based on sea food and fish.
Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy!
Perhaps that was because I was up North and the Italians I was celebrating with were from the coast (sailors actually). In other parts of Italy the feast is based on lentils and pork! Of course once you indulge in these feasts only the Italians know how to work it off. That requires cracking a spumante or prosecco and finding a club to dance and then waiting for the new born sun.
A ray of light is exactly what you might think you see if you celebrate the new year in India. Parties have themes – colour codes or unique dress codes – filled with food and even the lighting of bonfires and the burning of crackers. Of course if you visit the tourist and hippie mecca of Goa (a province on India’s West coast) then raves are all the…rave!
Heading back for Silvester, or the feast of St. Silverster is the name of New Year’s Eve in Germany. Who was Silvester? Well, he was a pope who lived in the fourth century and apparently healed leprosy and baptized the Roman Emporer, Constantine the Great among other things. Fair enough. I guess he should get a celebration. In Berlin, however, the world-famous bash Brandenburger Tor is held and at midnight everyone wishes everyone else “Gutes Nue Jahr”. The next day, there is, of course, the need to know what is coming in the next year so the Germans enjoy Bleigiessen. A tradition, it requires dropping molten lead into cold water. Shaped like a heart or a ring? A wedding is in your future.
While we, in the West, might be celebrating New Years’ Eve in a couple of days, in Cambodia New Year or Chaul Chnam Thmey is not until April 13th or 14th and it is celebrated for three days! Yes, three days. That’s because it represents the end of the harvesting season. Makes sense, no? To celebrate means visiting temples to get blessing from monks and priests while building a sand hill on the temple grounds and decorating it with five religious flags – it represents the Buddha’s five disciples. Each of the three days also have their own significance.
Harvesting is what it’s all about in Korea, China and Vietnam! Only their’s is celebrated at sunset on the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice (that was on December, 21 this year). It’s a three-day celebration too! Heck they know how to party out there. Almost all Koreans, apparently, head back to their hometowns to celebrate. On the eve, or Sut dal kum mum, people clean their homes and light them with colourful halogens. You think our New Years Eve is long? The Koreans don’t sleep! The belief is everyone needs to stay-up to see the new year coming in or….else.
The next day it’s all about eating and spending time with family even including the ancestors. Known as Chesa, a clean room, a table altar is places with food items and on a special paper their names are written. On a special paper called Chi Bang, the names of the ancestors are written. With the rituals done, it’s time to have fun with games and hanging-out.
The only tradition for their friends south, Australia, is a party of course! Beaches, pubs and clubs are all filled with crazy cappers and as soon as church bells ring at midnight loud noises also ring-out! Recovering from this fun, the New Year Day is a public holiday and people spend it with their family and friends. To get an idea of how much fun it is more than 3,00,000 tourists celebrate their New Year in Australia. I suppose that’s a party.
The Matterhorn can provide the background for New Year's Eve!
Of course the best I’ve seen/experienced was in Zermatt, Switzerland! I had the luck of having a friend with a house there. But that’s not where we stayed….well for New Year’s Eve anyway. Instead the party was taken to a five-story restaurant/bar/club in the middle of this traffic-free, mountain ensconced town. The Swiss know how to party.
Of course the next day the party the night before was nothing a little skiing with the backdrop of the Matterhorn mountain couldn’t take care of. Let’s hope I have the same luck this year in Vermont! So wherever you are and whatever you are doing this year, enjoy it! And come back next week for my next Rock Fever column for The Royal Gazette on traveling by book! (those following the blog will have seen it before:)