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Peas, polka dots, and panties make up New Year’s traditions around the world.

Hill Country residents have plenty of choices for bringing in 2012. See the entertainment calendar on opposite page or visit the live music listings at www.visitorinfo@fbgtx.org.


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Cabbage and cod: Happy New Year

by Phil Houseal
Dec 28, 2011


To me, New Year’s Eve is another non-event that we try to turn into a significant holiday. It’s just a tick of the clock that turns up a new page on the calendar. Yet humans try to attach all types of significance and symbolism to it.

As a youngster I quivered in anticipation of the New Year. I would stay up late, stocked with pizza, sodas, and a TV “Stooge-A-Thon” counting down to the magic hour. It didn’t take long to realize January 1,1972 was no different than December 31, 1971. When I became a musician, I looked on the night as an opportunity to make triple my usual pay, but that thrill wore off after a parade of matronly women blowing kazoos knocked over my hi-hat trying to attack me with champagne kisses.

I asked others how they celebrated and got responses from “starting my taxes” to “sitting around the fireplace eating oysters.”

In the Midwest there was no particular tradition beyond consuming alcoholic beverages and wearing silly paper hats. When I arrived in Texas, I was urged to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, a practice that has to do with prosperity and is observed throughout the south. Other regions think the same of cabbage or rice.

The Dane’s preferred New Year’s food is boiled cod and stewed kale. Party down.

In Mexico and countries with Spanish influence, families eat a grape with each of the twelve chimes of midnight, making a wish with each one. They also bake sweet bread with a coin hidden in the dough. The lucky person whose slice has the coin is blessed with good luck - after fixing the chipped tooth from biting into the coin.

Italians food of choice is not pasta or pizza, but lentils. It apparently has to do with the shape of the bean. The Filipinos take this shape obsession to extremes. They believe circles connote prosperity (the shape of coins). Hence, they eat “circularly shaped” fruits, wear clothes with polka dot patterns, and rattle coins inside round metal pans. Of course, they also believe that jumping high on New Year’s Day will ensure an increase in height that year.

Besides food, noise is an integral part of every culture’s celebration. This is usually in the form of setting off fireworks, in the belief they scare away evil spirits. I don’t know where it scares them to, since every country around the world launches fireworks at midnight, so the spirits probably end up right back where they started, though a bit winded after their 24-hour trip around the world.

Another tradition holds across cultures - consuming alcohol. All cultures toast, though some do so more creatively than others. In Quebec, people ice fish and drink. In Mexico, they eat, set off fireworks, and drink. Austrians play Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz and drink.

Some traditions take a troubling twist. In Belgium, farmers bring prosperity by wishing their animals a happy New Year. Germans pour hot lead into a bowl of water, then interpret the shapes to predict events. In Ecuador, they cleanse the past by burning family members’ photos.

Italians wear red underwear and drop household items out their windows. It is said that the Danes break dishes on their neighbor’s doorsteps, but people from Denmark deny it. I wonder why anyone would bother making that up.

Underwear plays a role in Venezuelan celebration. Those who want to find love in the New Year must wear red underwear; those who seek happiness wear yellow underwear. (How interesting that one must choose between love and happiness.)

So what is my New Year’s ritual du jour? I am not a total Philistine. I celebrate it madly... at 4:00 in the afternoon. With the citizens of Denmark. Pass the cabbage.