It’s New Year’s Eve, the final day of the year. Some of us will spend the day wearing silly hats, drinking champagne, and smooching one another at midnight. Some of us will spend the day at home, popping a move from Netflix in the DVD player and curling up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn… and if we’re lucky, someone to share it with.
But regardless of how you choose to celebrate this final night, let us now examine some of the meanings and traditions of New Year’s Eve – Day Six of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
New Year’s Eve was traditionally seen as the day when everything was tidied up, cleaned, washed, or polished… as described by F. Marian McNeill in her collection of folk customs:
The house received a mini spring-cleaning. Slops and ashes, which are usually removed in the morning, are carried out. Debts must be paid, borrowed articles returned, stockings darned, tears mended, clocks wound up, musical instruments tuned, pictures hung straight; brass and silver must be glittering, fresh linen must be put on the beds. Even in the slummiest houses… brooms and pails, soap, polishing rags and darning-needles emerge from neglected cupboards and drawers, and the bairns receive a thorough scrubbing in honor of the New Year.
~ The Silver Bough
Such activities reflect the thinking of the time…as the old year comes to an end, thus does it become imperative to complete unfinished business, to clear out everything and give the past a good final cleaning before bidding it adieu.
While giving the house a scrub-down might not be your idea of spending the day, New Year’s Eve can still be a good time for reflecting back on the year and on your own uncompleted tasks. Clearing up unfinished business, of whatever kind, is still a good idea… and blowing away the cobwebs from the old year that has passed is no bad thing either. Think about what you have accomplished over the past year, and what still remains to be done. Now is a time of contemplation – of thinking about the old and the new, of things to be let go of and the new intentions we hope for in the months to come. What is it that you need to let go of? What is it that you hope for and plan to achieve in the new year?
An old custom from the past was to cleanse the house of the past and charge the house for the new with buckets of water and branches of juniper. The head of the household would scrub down the floors and walls of the house, and sprinkle everyone with droplets of water from the buckets. Then the branches of dried juniper would be set alight and carried throughout the house as the aromatic smoke fumigated all the rooms. One can still do this today, using a pail or cauldron of water, and incense or smudgesticks. This can be a nice way of maintaining the ancient tradition, and leaving your home with a pleasant aroma and a sense of new beginnings.
Another custom for New Year’s Eve involves the idea of kindling a new light from the old. A few minutes before midnight, put out all o f your lights except for a single candle or lantern – it’s important that this light be a true living light of a flame rather than electric or battery operated. Send a person outside with this light, which they must guard and protect from the weather and make sure it doesn’t go out. When the clock strikes midnight, the person knocks on the door or rings the bell or pushes the doorlight…whatever works! Open the door and welcome the individual in with a smile and a special greeting, which could be something similar to this:
Welcome to the light of the New Year, and welcome to you who brings the light here!
Then go around the house with the candle and relight all the lights… it would be nice if these lights were all candles that you have set up all over the house in the different rooms, but if this is not possible, then you can simply enter a room with the candle/lantern, and then turn on a light as a symbolic gesture of welcoming the light back into that part of the house. If you do use candles, just be careful to keep an eye on them and don’t burn the house down!
Another custom involved the person coming into the house and using the candle to light a fire in the fireplace, which was then allowed to burn all night until dawn, as a way of bringing good luck and prosperity into the home.
And of course, enjoy the evening in the company of friends and loved ones. This is a time for sharing with others, and of partaking of good food and even better drink!
However you choose to celebrate New Year’s Eve, remember this as yet another significant celebration of the Winter Solstice, and a time of honoring the ever-changing Wheel of the Year.
WISHING ALL OF MY READERS
VERY HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS