Vol.  195
New Year's Traditions

It's almost the new year, and we could not be more excited to ring in the new year. To celebrate new beginnings, this week's Field Guide is all about new year's traditions—from spring cleaning to effigy burning. 

Happy New Year from everyone at Stranger's Guide and here's to a happier, healthier 2023!

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For the globally curious reader

Photographs by Vasylyna Vrublevska

New Year's means a unique festival in Ukraine: costumes of straw and colorful flowers; makeup to turn faces ghostly white with ruby red lips and cheeks; bear and goat costumes; masked men on horseback; dancing and carnival processions. Known as Malanka, this festival is one of the oldest in Eastern Slavic culture and traces its roots to pagan mythology. The festival takes place on January 13th, New Year’s Eve, according to the Julian calendar.

Malanka is, according to ancient folklore, Mother Earth’s daughter, and after she is captured by the devil, the world is devoid of Spring. But after she is released from his evil clutches, she returns so the Earth can live again. To celebrate the earth’s rebirth, villagers across the country dress in elaborate costumes, prepare feasts and go from door to door singing songs. Vasylyna Vrublevska’s photos allow us to celebrate with them.

Did You Know

Just before midnight on New Year's Eve, Ecuadorian families leave their kitchen tables and barbecues to head for the city streets. As they head outdoors, they bring with them lifesize effigy dolls called años viejos (the old year), homemade or purchased, and often resembling an unpopular politician or celebrity. Before tossing their effigy into a communal pile of dolls, Ecuadorians often pin a note to the dummy listing the disappointments of the past year and their hopes for the new one. At midnight, Ecuadorians from Quito to Guayaquil take matches to their años viejos—burning the effigies to say farewell to the bad.

Two weeks before Nowruz, the Persian New Year, observance often begins with scrubbing and sweeping. Spring cleaning has long been a feature of this 3,000-year old festival which arrives in late March. To welcome the spring, families often set up a Haft Sin table with symbolic items like wheat grass and dried fruit that each symbolize different hopes for the coming year. There's also dancing, bonfires and plenty of festive food.

Did You Know
"Dinner For One" may be virtually unknown in the UK where it was made, but watching the black and white comedy sketch has become a new year's tradition for much of Germany. Recorded in 1963, the 18-minute skit centers on an elderly woman celebrating her 90th birthday with her butler, and it includes running gags like the butler constantly tripping over the head of a tiger skin rug. The skit appears on television across Germany throughout New Year's Eve; in 2017 alone, more than 12 million Germans tuned in.


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a child carrying flowers walks toward the new year
a conductor tattooing darkness
listens to the shortest pause

hurry a lion into the cage of music
hurry stone to masquerade as a recluse
moving in parallel nights

who’s the visitor? when the days all
tip from nests and fly down roads
the book of failure grows boundless and deep

each and every moment's a shortcut
I follow it through the meaning of the East
returning home, closing death’s door

Bei Dao, “New Year” (translated by David Hinton with Yanbing Chen)

Twenty minutes later the Bakerloo Line delivered them into the icy cold of Trafalgar Square. In the distance, Big Ben. In the square, Nelson. Havelock. Napier. George IV. And then the National Gallery, back there near St. Martin’s. All the statues facing the clock.

“They do love their false icons in this country,” said Abdul-Colin, with his odd mix of gravity and satire, unmoved by the considerable New Year crowd who were presently spitting at, dancing round, and crawling over the many lumps of gray stone. “Now, will somebody please tell me: what is it about the English that makes them build their statues with their backs to their culture and their eyes on the time?” He paused to let the shivering KEVIN Brothers contemplate the rhetorical question.

“Because they look to their future to forget their past. Sometimes you almost feel sorry for them, you know?” he continued, turning full circle to look around at the inebriated crowd.

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

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Photo illustration, Photographs from Prokudin-Gorski
Library of Congress

Vasylyna Vrublevska, Stranger's Guide: Ukraine
(Traditional Nowruz celebration in Tajikistan)
Ilhoms, Wikimedia Commons
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