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New Year's Eve: The Western way

Tuesday, December 31, 2019, 17:45 GMT+7
New Year's Eve: The Western way
Foreigners watch a fireworks display in Hoi An City, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam on January 1, 2019. Photo: Tuoi Tre

I like to think of New Year’s Eve (NYE) as the biggest non-religious celebration on the planet. At least that’s what I used to tell my students when I was an English teacher; lots of blank stares but I thought it was a clever thing to say. Fortunately, I’m mostly immune to criticism for getting things wrong.

The world’s biggest party has an unusual timetable – it’s at midnight, remember? According to a world atlas website I checked, the party begins in the mid-Pacific amongst the little island states of Tonga, Samoa, and Kiribati which doesn’t register on most people’s radar. That’s followed by almost invisible New Zealand and then the humongous Sydney fireworks – broadcast around the world, Japan and South Korea.

We can thank good old Julius Caesar for deciding that NYE should be celebrated on January 1st, which makes Vietnam the lucky country for parties with Christmas, the Western New Year and then the Vietnamese Lunar New Year fairly close to together.

However, not everyone does NYE in the same way. Thank goodness for that!

Scotland, for example, has a three-day celebration starting on December 30th named ‘Hogmanay’ (the last day of the old year) and supposedly going all the way back to the Viking days. There are a lot of costumes (and Vikings of course) and something called a ‘ceildh,’ which is a big Scottish dance.

In Spain, folks eat 12 grapes at midnight and if you time it right, that’s supposed to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year. People practice for this…seriously. Did you break a plate or dish last year? Great! In Denmark, you can smash the old broken plates you’ve saved up on your neighbor’s door. Apparently you’re really popular if you end with a pile of tableware jamming the front door.

If you’re in Japan, people go to the temples to ring the bells (a lot) at midnight; it’s called ‘Omisoka’. Probably a good excuse to take a long nap earlier in the day as you’ll be unable to sleep after midnight! Since I get enough noise in Vietnam, I’ll skip this next time I’m in Japan.

And finally, one that fits the Vietnamese love of all things to do with money. In Brazil, people eat lentils at New Year; why? Lentils represent money; another way to wish for prosperity for the brand new year. Personally I think it should be beer in Vietnam that represents money; they drink enough of the stuff already.

While the Vietnamese love a crowd; this goes doubly for NYE and then later on, the Lunar New Year. To Westerners, these crowds can feel awkward and stressful, what with all the pushing and shoving that goes on – and just forget going anyway on a motorbike. If you’re in the walking zone in District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City, you can also look forward to the fights and flying plastic chairs that break out spontaneously after midnight.

Six years ago I went to the Hoi An fireworks only to spend an hour trying to find my bike as the local parking mafia moved it again and again. However, since the fireworks madness is mostly a young person’s thing (and I’m old and jaded) I have no objections to people inflicting this upon themselves.

Yet I find it interesting and somewhat comforting that just as many locals like to kick back with a quieter family get-together at someone’s home. Invites to these gatherings are nice although it can be embarrassing to have to refuse the eighth glass of rice whiskey before you go into a coma. 

For myself, I have frequently enjoyed the festivities from home on the TV. This is also because I have a large dog and he gets pretty nervous during the evening. So we just have a few (well…many) beers throughout the wee hours of the morning watching the Vietnamese youngsters flying past on their motorbikes yelling their heads off. My neighbors usually leave their doors open until 1:00 am as friends and family drop by for a quick chat on the way to the next party; and it’s even busier in the evenings leading up to the Tet (Lunar New Year) celebrations.

For all of us, I guess, NYE is really about leaving behind the difficult times of the previous year and simply reveling in the fact that we’re all still alive!

So wherever you are on the night, I (and the dog) wish you a very happy New Year that leads to a wonderful and successful 2020. For each challenge we all faced in 2019; and overcame – we can still look forward to the prospect of new and exciting projects into the New Year. I never think of NYE as getting older but more as if life is getting more interesting. It’s a chance and an opportunity…so grab it with both hands and enjoy the ride!

Happy New Year to all our Tuoi Tre News readers!

Stivi Cooke / Tuoi Tre News Contributor


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