Colored underwear, grapes and the great possum drop

Thursday, December 31, 2015

No ball drop in downtown McCook tonight, but a lot of us will be watching the big one descend in New York's Times Square via television.

More than a million people flock there to watch the annual event, which has taken place every year since 1907, except for a couple during World War II.

Julius Caesar decreed the New Year begin on Jan. 1, the first day of a month named after the Roman god Janus, who had two faces, one looking forward, the other back.

Back in Mesopotamia, ca. 2000 BC, the new year began on March 20, or the spring equinox, but as Garrison Keillor observes, March shows people who don't drink what a hangover feels like.

We prefer the clean, crisp weather of Jan. 1 for New Years celebrations.

Judging from traditions around the world, however, Americans need to step up their game when it comes to welcoming in the new year.

In Finland, revelers perform "molybdomancy," burning metal in a pan to predict the future by observing the shadows the metal casts.

Fire also plays a part in Ecuador, where they burn paper-filled scarecrows as effigies.

Speaking of fire, McCook legalized New Years fireworks a few years ago, but we haven't noticed many for sale this year.

In Greece, they bake a special round cake called a "vasiopita" containing a hidden coin. After it is cut, the first piece goes to St. Basil and the rest to guests according to their age.

Spanish tradition calls for eating 12 grapes at midnight, one for each strike of the clock.

Romanians dance in bear costumes to scare evil away from their home, but don't dance near an Italian home at midnight, because you might be struck by some of the pots, pans and old furniture traditionally thrown out the window.

In Mexico, Argentina and Peru, wear red underwear if you're looking for love; green if you're seeking wealth, or in Turkey, wear red to bring luck to your loved ones.

Philippinos like to light fireworks, hit pots and pans and make as much noise as possible to drive away evil spirits.

Brazilians head to the beach to jump over seven waves to honor Lamanja, the Mother of Waters, and throw rice, jewelry and other gifts into the water to encourage her to protect fishermen and survivors of shipwrecks.

America's not completely devoid of unusual traditions, however.

We carry on the German or English tradition of the New Year's kiss, which is supposed to set the proper tone for the year.

Southerners eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day for good luck, possibly derived from a tradition carried to Georgia by Shepari Jews in the 1730s.

While you're down south, visit Brasstown, North Carolina, where a possum in a tinsel-draped, clear plastic box is gently lowered from the roof of a convenience store.

If you're like many of us, however, you'll probably be fast asleep by the time 2016 rolls around to our side of the world.

That's probably not a bad plan, and it's certainly safer than many of the alternatives.

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