There are many popular beliefs about New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, with thousands of superstitions, traditions, and lucky customs to follow on the the last and first days of the year, with the primary purpose of these habits to make our next year happy, peaceful, and abundant. But why do we drink champagne and eat lentils, avoid poultry, and what is the purpose of all the noise-making?
New Year’s Eve
In the Western world, December 31st and January 1st are the days to bid farewell to the old year and welcome the new one, and became widespread with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar. Although the beliefs and superstitions are associated with these days of the year, they most often apply throughout the year.
Until the 20th century, practically only the richest people consumed champagne, as the drink was produced in bottles and it took 2-3 years to prepare. From 1850, however, the production of tank sparkling wine began, making it possible to produce up to 7-8000 bottles at a time. Thus, the alcoholic beverage became less expensive and became more widespread. However, sparkling wine is still considered an elegant drink, and it is believed that drinking it on New Year’s Eve will make people rich and prosperous throughout the year.
There is also a long-standing tradition of midnight noise-making, and firecrackers. It was already a custom in the Middle Ages, believed to eliminate harmful spirits and diseases. Later, people would blow up animal bladders in some rural areas to say good-bye to the old year. The successor to this habit is the decompression of champagne, and fireworks, or firecrackers, which usually upsets animals, often resulting in dogs and cats running away and sometimes small animals even being frightened to death.
photo: MTI/Czeglédi Zsolt
What to eat on New Year’s Eve?
There are foods that are believed to bring misfortune when consumed on the first day of the year. Poultry, for example, should not be eaten because hens “scrape away luck.” At the same time, it is recommended to consume pork, as the pig itself is considered “lucky.” Consuming grains such as beans or lentils can also bring good luck, as they will bring money to the home. People usually eat strudels as well, with a lot of filling, as the superstition says that the more filling brings more happiness in the coming months.
Fish is considered good luck along river areas, as it brings good fortune (as much money as it has scales); however, in other places it is thought that fish brings bad fortune. According to an old Hungarian superstition, if people do not eat all the food they have on New Year’s Eve, then they will be taken care of the next year as well. That is why people leave food in the fridge and in the larder. It is also an old custom to break a whole new bread to always have bread for the family in the coming year.
On the last day of the year, it is forbidden to wash, sew, cook, sweep, iron, and do other similar housework as it brings bad luck. Ironing flattens one’s luck for example, while with sweeping, luck would be swept away. It was also forbidden to take out the rubbish on this day because then we are throwing away our luck.
Superstitions about love
On New Year’s Day, girls put small sheets of dough in the form of dumplings or noodles, each having a male name written on them. At midnight, they put the dumplings in hot water and the first one to come up to the surface was the name of their future husband. Another superstition was about a future marriage: girls kicked the wall of the pigsty, and when the pigs grunted, it meant the girl would get married in the New Year. It was believed that the first New Year’s male visitor would be her husband. Lovers and newlyweds paid special attention to have honey in the house because if the lovers brush their lips with honey and kiss at midnight, their love and marriage will be sweet and long. At the same time, on the first day of the new year, it was considered better to try and refrain from quarreling and fighting at home, otherwise, they would spend the whole year fighting.
Superstitions on health
An old new year’s custom was to bathe in fresh, cold water early on New Year’s morning to stay healthy throughout the year. Earlier, in rural areas, whoever drew water first from the well in the morning “took the golden water” and would be lucky all year. There were areas where a red apple was placed in the water tub, which also symbolized healthy living. It was believed that a doctor should not be called on New Year’s Day because it could bring illness for the whole year to come.
Superstitions about weather
Many new year’s superstitions are related to next year’s weather. From the weather at dawn, people predicted the weather for the whole year. For example, good weather meant a good harvest and the starry sky meant that winter would not be long next year. Another belief is that if it doesn’t freeze in January, then frosty days will come in March and April. A purple, cloudy sunrise brings new winds and thunderstorms for the year. On the first day of the New Year, the cold northern winds mean a long, hard winter.