Friday, December 30, 2011
Auld Lang Syne and Other New Year's Traditions by Kimberly Gardner
That New Year's Song
“I mean, 'Should old acquaintance be forgot'? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?”
-- Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally
In Times Square the sparkling crystal ball begins its descent as all over people start counting down. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six ... When at last the clock strikes midnight, we blow horns, shake
noisemakers, raise glasses and lock lips with the one we love, or the one we love for the moment anyway. Then someone starts to sing and we all join in.
Should old acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot
and days o' auld lang syne?
This is the first verse of "Auld Lang Syne." It's the only verse that's sung on a regular basis, probably because it's the only verse most people know. But where did this New Year's song come from and what the heck does it mean?
The song began as a poem penned by Scottish poet Robert Burns after he heard it sung by an old man from the Ayrshire region of Scotland. It was first published in the 1796 book, Scots Musical Museum. Several verses appear to have been taken from an earlier poem by James Watson called "Old Long Syne."
But it was bandleader Guy Lombardo who popularized the song and made it a New Year's tradition when he and his band, Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, played it at the Roosevelt Hotel New Year's Eve celebration in 1929. Subsequently the song was played every New Year's Eve by Lombardo at the stroke of midnight, first from the Roosevelt Hotel until 1966 then from the Waldorf Astoria until 1976.
New Year's traditions around the world
From Scotland, the birthplace of Auld Lang Syne, we also get the tradition of Hogmanay. One of the traditions associated with this celebration is known as "first-footing." After the new year has been rung in, neighbors visit one another and exchange good wishes for the coming year. The traditional gifts for Hogmanay were coal (for the fire) or shortbread. It is considered especially lucky if a tall, dark, and handsome man is the first to enter your house after the new year is rung in.
The Japanese New Year's celebration is Oshogatsu. In December, various Bonenkai or "forget-the-year parties" are held to bid farewell to the problems and concerns of the past year and prepare for a new beginning. It is a time for forgiving past misunderstandings and cleansing. At midnight on Dec. 31, Buddhist temples strike their gongs 108 times, in a effort to expel 108 types of human weakness.
In Spain the New Year's ritual is to eat twelve grapes at midnight. The tradition is meant to secure twelve months of happiness and prosperity in the coming year.
In Greece, New Year's day is also the Feastday of St. Basil, one of the founders of the Greek Orthodox Church. St. Basil's cake or Vassilopitta is served. A silver or gold coin is baked into the cake and whoever gets the coin in their slice is said to have good luck in the coming year.
New Year's traditions at home
Perhaps the best known tradition in the United States is the dropping of the New Year Ball in Times Square, New York City. At 11:59 P.M., thousands gather in the cold to watch the ball make its one-minute descent, arriving exactly at midnight. The tradition first began in 1907. The original ball was made of iron and wood; the current ball is made of Waterford Crystal, weighs 1,070 pounds, and is six feet in diameter.
Key West, Florida
For those who prefer to celebrate in shorts and flipflops rather than mittens and snow boots, Key West has its own take on the midnight drop. Every year thousands of people gather to welcome the New Year with the "drop" of a renowned female impersonator perched in a super-sized ruby slipper.
Suspended high above spectators on the island city's famed Duval Street, lavishly gowned drag queen Sushi, whose real name is Gary Marion, has ruled the annual festivities at the Bourbon Street Pub/New Orleans House complex every year since 1996.
Seconds before midnight, the red heel carrying Sushi is lowered from the complex's balcony toward the crowd below. As midnight strikes, she pops the cork on a ceremonial bottle of champagne to welcome in the New Year. (video)
In my New Year's Eve theme novella, Drag And Drop, releasing today as part of the MLR 42 Days of Holiday Stories, a young drag performer struggles with whether to reveal his penchant for lipstick and lace to his new love. Set against a backdrop of New Year's Eve in Key West, the story has a little angst, a little heat and lots of yummy m/m romance.
So wherever you may find yourself this New Year's Eve -- eating grapes in Spain or visiting neighbors in Scotland; counting down in Times Square or sipping champagne with Sushi on Duval Street -- take a moment to recall the past, anticipate the future and maybe treat yourself to some holiday romance from MLR.
And keep an eye out for that darkly handsome stranger, because you never know what the New Year might bring.
Happy New Year!
Kimberly Gardner is the author of four novels and a dozen novellas. She is honored to be part of the 42 Days of Holiday Stories from MLR Press with her New Year’s novella, Drag and Drop, releasing today.
You can visit Kimberly on her web site, www.kimberlygardner.com; on Facebook; @kimberauthor on Twitter and on the blog Fiction With Friction.