In the Gregorian calendar, December 31 is the last day of the year and celebrated as New Year’s Eve. This is also known as Old Year’s Day or Saint Sylvester’s Day in many countries. In Thailand — where I have lived for the past twelve years — this marks the start of a four-day government and school holiday, the first of three New Year celebrations over the course of four months (Chinese New Year occurs in late January or early February while Thai New Year, known locally as Songkran, begins on April 13). The New Year celebrations of 2017 will see much more muted festivities than usual in Thailand due to the October 13, 2016, death of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
New Year’s Eve celebrations vary markedly from country to country, and often within different regions of a single nation. In the United States, the last day of the year is observed through formal parties, family-oriented activities, and other large public events. One of the most prominent celebrations in the country is the “ball drop” held in New York City’s Times Square. Inspired by the time balls that were formally used as a time signal, at 11:59 p.m. ET, an 11,875-pound (5,386 kg), 12-foot (3.7 m) diameter Waterford crystal ball located on the roof of One Times Square is lowered down a pole that is 70 feet high, reaching the roof of the building 60 seconds later to signal the start of the New Year. The Ball Drop has been held since 1907, and in recent years has averaged around a million spectators annually.
The popularity of the Time’s Square festivities has inspired similar “drop” events outside of New York City, which often use objects that represent a region’s culture, geography, or history — such as Atlanta’s “Peach Drop”, representing Georgia’s identity as the “Peach State”. Alongside the festivities in Times Square, New York’s Central Park hosts a “Midnight Run” event organized by the New York Road Runners, which culminates in a fireworks show and a race around the park that begins at midnight.
Radio and television broadcasts from festivities in New York helped to ingrain aspects of them in American pop culture; beginning on the radio in 1928, and on CBS television from 1956 to 1976 with ball drop coverage, Guy Lombardo and his band, The Royal Canadians, presented an annual New Year’s Eve broadcast from the ballroom of New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The broadcasts were best known for the Royal Canadians’ signature performance of “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight, which made the standard synonymous with New Year’s in the United States. Following Lombardo’s death in 1977, ABC’s competing program New Year’s Rockin’ Eve succeeded the Royal Canadians as the dominant New Year’s Eve special on U.S. television. Its creator and host Dick Clark intended the program to be a modern and youthful alternative to Lombardo’s big band music. Including ABC’s special coverage of the year 2000, Clark would host New Year’s Eve coverage on ABC for 33 straight years. After suffering a stroke, Clark ceded hosting duties in 2005 to talk show host Regis Philbin, and retired as full-time host in 2006 in favor of Ryan Seacrest due to a speech impediment caused by the stroke. Clark continued to make appearances from a studio on the program annually until his death in 2012.
Notable celebrations occur in other U.S. cities as well. On the Las Vegas Strip, the streets are closed to vehicle traffic on the evening of New Year’s Eve, and a large fireworks show is held at midnight which spans across multiple resort buildings. Major theme parks may also hold New Year’s celebrations; Disney theme parks, such as Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland in Anaheim, California, are traditionally the busiest during the days up to and including New Year’s Eve.
Los Angeles, a city long without a major public New Year celebration, held an inaugural gathering in Downtown’s newly completed Grand Park to celebrate the beginning of 2014. The event included food trucks, art installations, and light shows, culminating with a projection mapping show on the side of Los Angeles City Hall near midnight. The inaugural event drew over 25,000 spectators and participants. In 2015, Chicago held Chi-Town Rising, the city’s first ever outdoor New Year’s Eve festival on the Magnificent Mile. The event was hosted by Mario Lopez with musical guests American Authors and Chicago. Nearly 100,000 people attended the inaugural event.
In Germany, parties are common on New Year’s Eve. Fireworks are very popular, both with individuals and at large municipal displays. December 31 and the three days leading up to it are the only four days of the year on which fireworks may be sold in Germany. Every year Berlin hosts one of the largest New Year’s Eve celebrations in all of Europe, attended by over a million people. The focal point is the Brandenburg Gate, where midnight fireworks are centered. Germans toast the New Year with a glass of Sekt (German sparkling wine) or champagne.
Since 1972, each New Year’s Eve, several German television stations broadcast a short comedy play in English (recorded by West German television in 1963) entitled Dinner for One. A line from the comedy sketch, “the same procedure as every year”, has become a catch phrase in Germany. Molybdomancy (Bleigießen) is another German New Year’s Eve tradition, which involves telling fortunes by the shapes made by molten lead dropped into cold water. Other auspicious actions are to touch a chimney sweep or have him rub some ash on your forehead for good luck and health. Jam-filled doughnuts (called Berliners) with and without liquor fillings are eaten. Finally a tiny marzipan pig is consumed for more good luck.
In some northern regions of Germany, the making of Speckdicken is another tradition. People go door to door visiting their neighbors and partaking in this dish. It looks similar to a pancake, but the recipe calls for either dark molasses or dark syrup, with summer sausage and bacon in the center.
The New Year (Ano Novo), is one of Brazil’s main holidays. It officially marks the beginning of the summer holidays, which last until Carnival. Brazilians traditionally have a copious meal with family or friends at home, in restaurants or private clubs, and consume alcoholic beverages. Champagne is traditionally drunk. Those spending New Year’s Eve at the beach usually dress in white, to bring good luck into the new year. Fireworks and eating grapes or lentils are customs associated with the holiday. The beach at Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro is ranked among the top 10 New Year Fireworks displays. The combination of live concerts, a spectacular fireworks display and millions of revelers combine to make the Copacabana’s New Year’s party one of the best in the world. In addition, the celebration is broadcast on Rede Globo on the year end show Show da Virada.
The largest celebration in Australia is held in its largest city, Sydney. Each year, the celebrations in Sydney are accompanied by a theme with two pyrotechnic shows: the 9:00 pm Family Fireworks and the Midnight Fireworks. Centering on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the fireworks are synchronized to a blend of popular music and a lighting display called the “Bridge Effect”, which displays various symbols and other images related to the current year’s theme, located on the bridge itself. The “Midnight Fireworks” are regularly watched by approximately 1.5–2 million people at Sydney Harbour. As one of the first major New Year’s celebrations globally each year, Sydney’s Midnight Fireworks are often broadcast throughout the world during the day of 31 December. In Melbourne, the city follows suit with Sydney having a 9:30 Family Fireworks followed by the midnight fireworks. Celebrations are mostly centered on the Yarra River and Federation Square, as well as Docklands. Most of the firework shows in Melbourne are launched from boats along the river and from atop the city’s various skyscrapers.
In Japan, New Year’s Eve is used to prepare for and welcome Toshigami (年神), the New Year’s god. People clean their home and prepare Kadomatsu or Shimenawa to welcome the god before New Year’s Eve. Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times at midnight in the tradition Joya no Kane (除夜の鐘). The rings represent the 108 elements of bonō (煩悩), mental states that lead people to take unwholesome actions. In most cities and urban areas across Japan, New Year’s Eve celebrations are usually accompanied by concerts, countdowns, fireworks and other events. In Tokyo, the two most crowded celebrations are held at the Shibuya crossing in Shibuya and the Zojoji Temple in Minato. People gather around the Zojoji Temple to release helium balloons with New Year’s wishes up in the sky and watch the lighting of Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree with a year number displayed on the observatory at the stroke of midnight.
Most Russians celebrate New Year’s Eve with their families and close friends. Novy God (Новый Год) is the Russian phrase for “New Year”, and also designates the Russian New Year’s Eve and New Years’ Day celebration. Russia used 1 September as the start of each new year from 1492 until a December 1699 decree of Tsar Peter I mandated the adoption of the Christian Era in 1700. The origin of this holiday in Russia derives from Christmas. Christmas was also a major holiday in Russia until it was banned, with all other religious holidays, by the Communist Party. To compensate for the absence of Christmas, New Year’s was celebrated as much as Christmas was, but without the religious aspect of the holiday. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, New Year’s is celebrated in Russia and has become a Russian tradition. There is an old superstition that if the first visitor (especially an unexpected one) on January 1 is a man, the year will be good. People also try to start the new year without debts.
The Russian New Year’s Eve celebration usually starts one or two hours before midnight. A common tradition is to “say farewell to the old year” by remembering the most important events of the last twelve months. At five minutes to twelve most people watch the president’s speech on TV or watch popular New Year TV shows. There is a tradition to listen to the Kremlin clock bell ringing twelve times on the radio or on TV, which is followed by the national anthem. During these last twelve seconds of the year people keep silence and make their secret wishes for the next year. After the clock strikes, they drink champagne and have rich dinner, watching TV concerts and having fun. Some people light fireworks outside and visit their friends and neighbors. As December 30 and 31 are working days, a lot of people also have small parties at work, though December 31 is mostly spent at home or with friends. Grandfather Frost and his granddaughter Snowmaiden bring presents on New Year’s Eve.
Numerous decorations and customs traditionally associated with Christmas and Bayrams are part of secular New Year’s Eve celebrations in Turkey. Homes and streets are lit in glittering lights. Small gifts are exchanged, and large family dinners are organized with family and friends, featuring a special turkey dish stuffed with a zante currant, pine nuts, pimiento and dill iç pilav, dolma, hot börek, baklava, and various other Turkish dishes, accompanied with rakı, Turkish wine, or boza, şerbet, salep, and Turkish tea or coffee. Even though Turkish people generally do not celebrate Christmas, decorating Christmas trees is a very popular tradition on New Year’s Eve in Turkey, and the Turks associate Santa Claus with New Year’s Eve. Public and private parties with large public attendances are organized in a number of cities and towns, particularly in the largest metropolitan areas such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Bursa and Antalya, with the biggest celebrations taking place in Istanbul’s Taksim, Beyoğlu, Nişantaşı and Kadıköy districts and Ankara’s Kızılay Square, which generally feature dancing, concerts, laser and lightshows as well as the traditional countdown and fireworks display.
In Scotland, New Year’s (Hogmanay) is celebrated with several different customs, such as First-Footing, which involves friends or family members going to each other’s houses with a gift of whisky and sometimes a lump of coal. Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, hosts one of the world’s most famous New Year celebrations. The celebration is focused on a major street party along Princes Street. The cannon is fired at Edinburgh Castle at the stroke of midnight, followed by a large fireworks display. Edinburgh hosts a festival of four or five days, beginning on 28 December, and lasting until New Year’s Day or January 2, which is also a bank holiday in Scotland.
Mexicans celebrate New Year’s Eve, (Vispera de Año Nuevo) by eating a grape with each of the twelve chimes of a clock’s bell during the midnight countdown, while making a wish with each one. Mexican families decorate homes and parties in colors that represent wishes for the upcoming year: red encourages an overall improvement of lifestyle and love, yellow encourages blessings of improved employment conditions, green for improved financial circumstances, and white for improved health. Mexican sweet bread is baked with a coin or charm hidden in the dough. When the bread is served, the recipient of the slice with the coin or charm is said to be blessed with good luck in the New Year. Another tradition is to make a list of all the bad or unhappy events over the past 12 months; before midnight, this list is thrown into a fire, symbolizing the removal of negative energy from the new year. At the same time, they are expressed for all the good things during the year that is ending so that they will continue in the new year.
Mexicans celebrate with a late-night dinner with their families, the traditional meal being turkey or pork loin. Afterwards many people attend parties outside the home, for example, in night clubs. In Mexico City there is a street festival on New Year’s Eve centered on the Zocalo, the city’s main square. Celebrations include firecrackers, fireworks and sparklers and shouts of “¡Feliz Año Nuevo!“
Thais celebrate the arrival of the Gregorian New Year on January 1 with their families, relatives and friends, which includes a family dinner and following different customs. It is a public holiday. In most cities and urban areas across Thailand, Usually, New Year’s Eve celebrations are accompanied by countdowns, fireworks, concerts and other major events, notably, the CentralWorld Square at CentralWorld and the area along Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, and the popular tourist beaches in Pattaya and Phuket, while public places such as hotels, pubs, restaurants and nightclubs, also host New Year’s Eve parties by offering food, entertainment and music to the guests, usually staying open until the next morning. A Thai song featuring the music of “Auld Lang Syne” is often sung just after midnight, but not accompanied by the “New Year’s kiss” featured in similar singings in the United States or elsewhere.
Today’s stamp featuring fireworks was released by Canada Post on January 15, 2008, and is actually the last general issue for that country listed in my 2009 edition of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue (Scott #2259). I believe it’s time to purchase a more recent catalogue! The stamp is non-denominated (indicated by the “P”) and sold for 52 cents on the date of issue. The self-adhesive lithographed stamp with serpentine die-cut perforations measuring 13½ horizontally was released in a booklet pane of 6.
New Year traditions and celebrations in Canada vary regionally. New Year’s Eve (also called New Year’s Eve Day or Veille du Jour de l’An in French) is generally a social holiday. In many cities, such as Toronto and Niagara Falls in Ontario, Edmonton and Calgary in Alberta, Vancouver, British Columbia and Montreal, Quebec, there are large celebrations which may feature concerts, late-night partying, sporting events, and fireworks, with free public transit service during peak party times in most major cities. In some areas, such as in rural Quebec, people ice fish in the old days. Since 2000, the highlight of New Year’s Eve celebrations is in Montreal’s old port, which comes alive with concerts that take place and fireworks at midnight.
In Thai, “Happy New Year” is pronounced like “Sawatdee Pee My” (สวัสดีปีใหม่). Good luck in 2017!