As we get ready to close the year and look forward to the year to come, I wanted to make a quick post about New Year’s traditions and Superstitions. Pagans do love a good old tradition or superstition, and these are practiced all over the world. So here we go!
Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and used for the New Years’ celebrations. It commemorates the solar divinity, Hogmagog. Some traditions of Hogmanay include festivities during New Year’s Eve and into New Year’s day (January 1st). The tradition of ‘first-footing’ begins at midnight and involves being the first person to visit friends, family, or neighbors and giving a small symbolic gift such as salt, coal, shortbread, and whiskey. These gifts are intended to bring luck to the homeowner. Food and drink are given to the guest as gifts. The first-foot is believed to set the luck for the rest of the year.
Traditional festivities include dressing in hides and horns of animals and burning smoking sticks to ward off evil sprites.
Another tradition is fireball swinging which takes place in Stonehaven in northeast Scotland. Fire displays and torchlight processions are also popular.
An old Highlands custom is called ‘saining’. Which means to protect or bless the household and livestock. This is done by drinking and then sprinkling water throughout the home, from a river ford routinely crossed by both the living and the dead. After the water has been sprinkled, the home is smudged with branches of juniper. Then all doors and windows are opened to let the fresh new year air in.
The opening of all doors and windows at the stroke of midnight and rattling off sils to drive off the remnants of the past year and welcome the new year are found in several Pagan traditions.
The traditional song of New Year’s, Auld Lang Syne. A Scots-language poem written in 1788 by Robert Burns. It bids farewell to the old year and welcomes the new. More information on this lovely song HERE.
One last tradition was called Handsel Day, where historically presents were given out on the first Monday of the New Year, and a roast dinner would be eaten in celebration.
Drinking – The Romans are known for their parties, let’s face it, feasting on New Year’s was not one to pass up.
Janus – Ceasar instituted January 1st ass the first day of the year, partly to honor the month’s namesake Janus, the Roman god of change and beginnings. Janus had 2 faces which allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future. This idea became tied to the transition from one year to another.
In celebration, they would offer sacrifices to Janus in the hope of gaining good fortune for the coming year. Also, they would decorate their homes with laurel branches and partying it up. Gifts of figs and honey were also popular.
Krios and Iasion are associated with the coming of the new year in ancient Greek traditions. Krios was one of the Titans, typically depicted with Ram horns and associated with the constellation of Aries. Since the constellation of Aries was one of the first constellations to appear in the springtime sky, Krios became associated with the New Year.
Iasion was a demigod, son of Zeus. He was the consort of the goddess Demeter. In honor off Iasio and Demeter, cutting 3 furrows in fields to be planted in spring became an important part of fertility rites performed to welcome the new year.
The passing of the old and new year were different sets of days on the Aztec calendar. The last five days of the year are called ‘nemontemi’ and were considered unlucky and dangerous. Dark spirits wandered the land, and people stayed indoors to avoid attracting the bad spirits.
The first day after the last 5 days of the year was called ‘Quahuitlehua’ and was thought off as the first day of the year. It was the end of the dry season when crops could once again be sown. Here is where it gets a bit dark…to secure the favor of the rain gods, it is believed that children were sacrificed by drowning, called ‘Atlchualco’ or ‘the buying of water’.
Most places in Ireland consider it essential for the home to be spotless to begin the New Year. A clean home allowed the family to have a fresh start and symbolized a fresh hope that the New Year would be a good one.
Another traditional Irish tradition is to remember loved ones who have passed on. This is done by setting a place for them at the dinner table and leaving it empty. Sometimes the front door is left unlocked to invite those loved ones to return home.
An unusual tradition, but a very Pagan one, is to bang the walls of the house with bread, to chase away bad luck and evil spirits. Some traditions saw it as encouraging good luck and ensuring there would be plenty of bread throughout the new year.
New Year’s guests are asked to enter the house through the front door at midnight and leave through a back door. This is thought to bring good luck as well.
Mistletoe has a deep tradition in Yule traditions, but also for the New Year. Placing a sprig of mistletoe, ivy or holly under your pillow would enable the user to see their future partner in a dream. Placing a sprig of mistletoe outside the front door was also thought to bring good luck in finding the right partner in the new year.
Adopted Modernized Traditions
Feasts – The Norse tradition of Yule ended on New Year, and is celebrated with a grand feast. Hogmanay also included feasting and revelry.
Babies – Ancient Egyptian and Greek cultures paraded a baby to symbolize the new year and end of winter. Babies remain a popular New Year symbol even in modern times.
Father time – The symbol of passing time, and the death of the old year. This symbol is rooted in ancient India, with Yama the god of death and justice. Whom later influenced the Roman Pluto and Greek Chronos gods of time.
Kissing – At the stroke of midnight, kissing is a time-honored tradition that lives to this day. Most likely with Roman roots, kissing was a part of Solstice and Saturnalia celebrations. The kiss is meant to set the tone for the new year.
Grapes – Eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve is both a tradition and superstition in Spain. Traditionally, you eat 12 grapes, one for each of the 12 first seconds of the New Year. This is a tradition I personally have always done since I was a child. I suggest not trying to shove all 12 grapes into your mouth, take your time, the magic is in the intent, not in the speed in which you eat the grapes!
Scarecrow Burning – In the name of good fortune, in Ecuador the Near Year is celebrated by burning of paper filled scarecrows at midnight.
Round Items – In the Philippines, round = money. To bring the luck of cash in the New Year, they celebrate by using round food, round clothes, and other ’round’ symbols.
Bells – In Japan bells ring 108 times in alignment with the Buddhist belief that it will bring cleanliness.
Smile – Another Japanese tradition is that you should be smiling as the New Year comes, to bring good luck.
Coin toss – in Romania it is tradition to toss a coin into a river on New Year for good luck.
Water Buckets – A tradition of Puerto Rico is to throw a pail of water out of a window on New Year’s to drive away evil spirits.
The Jump – seen in several parts of the world, people climb on top of chairs or other small objects and literally ‘jump’ into the New Year to bring luck.
Resolutions – Going to be honest…not my favorite thing, and one I don’t usually partake in. However, setting a goal to push for in the New Year is a time-honored tradition all over the world, which helps focus your energy.
Bleigiessen – also known as ‘lead-pouring’, is a New Year’s tradition in Germany which involves melting a small piece of lead on a spoon over a candle and then dropping it into a bowl of cool water. The lead hardens and the shape tells you what the new year holds in store for you. A traditional list of shapes and their meanings can be found HERE.
Noise – making noise, such as shooting guns, blowing horns, ringing bells, setting off fireworks, etc. The helps ward off evil spirits.
Whatever your traditions or ways to celebrate, or even if you don’t celebrate the modern New Year (since for most Pagans New Year is celebrated in October). I hope that 2019 brings peace, love, prosperity, and everything that is good in the world.
Love and Light,