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New Year’s traditions on the west side and around the world

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Cincinnati’s west side has seen its share of immigrants—and many of them brought with them New Year’s traditions, often involving guests, noise, and food. For example, those of Irish descent often make sure that the first person across the threshold in the new year is a dark-haired man, to bring good luck in the coming year. They also sometimes put buttered bread on the doorstep to keep away hunger for the whole year.

The Greeks who came to Cincinnati often opened restaurants, so it’s no surprise that a Greek tradition involves food—though not the kind you’ll find at the local chili parlor. Instead, you may find a neighbor of Greek extraction smashing a pomegranate against the front door for a happy new year.

There are a lot of folks who claim Germany as their homeland around here, too, and you may find some of them touching the ashes in their fireplaces on New Year’s Eve, for luck. And, if they happen to see a chimney sweep, well, “a sweep is as lucky as lucky can be,” as Mary Poppins would say.

Many New Year’s traditions center around food: those German Americans eat sauerkraut, or cabbage balls, or some kind of pork for luck in the coming year. The Scots for some reason eat oatmeal stuffed in a sheep’s stomach, known as haggis, and if you can stomach that, the rest of the year will be an improvement on the first meal, that’s for sure. Southerners are prone to eat black-eyed peas (because they are supposed to look like coins) and cooked greens (because they are the color of money) to ensure prosperity for the year.

In Ecuador, people burn a scarecrow at midnight to banish the bad business of the old year and so they are ready to start fresh. Other Latin American traditions include eating lentils (again, because they look like small coins) and wearing all-white clothing on New Year’s Eve. If you hope to travel in the new year, walk around the outside of your house carrying a suitcase; for general good luck, sweep the floors in the house, or throw water out the window.

Many countries’ traditions include making noise, supposedly to ward off evil spirits, either from the past year or those that turn up at the transition between the old and new year. People bang pots and pans, set off fireworks, and even fire shotguns into the air at midnight. Whether these precautions keep away bad luck or not, it seems like a universal tendency to want to make a lot of noise at the stroke of midnight. Whatever your traditions, on Cincinnati’s west side and around the world, Happy New Year!

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