Thursday, January 3, 2008

Happy New Year (Todd Snider)

From Gimundo...

No matter where you live, your clock should have ticked on over to 2008 by now. And whether you welcomed in the New Year with a whimper or a bang, or simply slept right through it, we hope you've woken up refreshed and ready to face a fantastic new year (though if you celebrated in the traditional fashion, you may need a few Advil first).

All over the world, the start of a new year is considered a time to take stock of your life – to think about what you can leave behind, and what dreams are still unfulfilled. Here in the United States, many of us write up lists of resolutions that we never end up keeping, and, at the stroke of midnight, hope we have someone to welcome us into the new year with a kiss. But many other countries have their own fascinating customs to face the changing year, including everything from wearing yellow underwear to burning junk-filled dolls. If you're regretting how you spent last night, here are a few unique international customs you may want to try next year –as long as you've got the frequent flier miles for it.

In South American countries including Ecuador and Colombia, make sure to stock up on matches – it's time to burn all your bad memories away. To celebrate the New Year, families buy life-sized male dolls, which can be stuffed with whatever (non-toxic) junk you're ready to ditch, and dressed in a family member's old clothing. Then, let the bonfire begin: The burning of the so-called "Mr. Old Year" is a way to symbolically erase the pain of the past year, and to welcome the next year with a clean slate.

Fire is also a major theme in a Scottish celebration called Hogmanay, which sometimes includes an ancient custom known as "burning the clavie," in which barrels of tar are set alight. In the town of Burghead, the burning barrels are carried through the village, up to the ruins of a Roman altar. When the barrels break into pieces, the villagers scramble to bring pieces of burning wood back to their houses, using the flames to light the fires in their chimneys. The resulting pieces of charcoal are put to good use as well – townspeople put them in their chimneys as good luck charms, intended to ward off evil spirits.

Another ritual associated with the Hogmanay festival in Scotland is "first footing," in which neighbors go from door to door with gifts, in an effort to be the first visitor to a house in the new year. According to legend, the first visitor sets the tone for the year to come – so, as far as the ladies are concerned, a visit from a tall, dark, and handsome man is a great blessing. (Not that they wouldn't enjoy it the rest of the year, too.)

In Venezuela and Peru, if you're hoping to meet the love of your life, there's one fashion necessity: Wear yellow underwear on New Year's Eve. The colorful underthings are also thought to attract good luck and positive energy. If you venture into Mexico, however, bring a change of clothes – red is the color of choice there.

And finally, if you happen to be heading up to Scandinavia for the start of the New Year, you're in for a bash of a celebration – literally. In Denmark, it's customary to hoard old, unwanted plates all year long. On New Year's Eve, haul them out and head over to your friends' houses, where you can smash the plates into their front doors. Yes, it sounds a bit destructive, but strange as it seems, the more broken plates you find on your doorstep in the morning, the more friends you have, according to local custom. Sounds like a perfect way to let out that pent-up holiday aggression – but just be careful not to break any windows on your New Year's rampage, or you may not have any friends left in the morning.

So, whether you spent your New Year's Eve lighting bonfires or breaking dishes, or went with the tried-and-true combo of a bottle of bubbly and a Dick Clark countdown, we hope you got a great start to 2008. And if it wasn't so spectacular, just stock up on the yellow undies and the ugly chinaware – there's always next year.

Original story by Kathryn Hawkins

So often it has been displayed to us, the hourglass
with its grains of sand drifting down,
not as an object in our world
but as a sign, a symbol, our lives
drifting down grain by grain,
sifting away — I'm sure everyone must
see this emblem somewhere in the mind.
Yet not only our lives drift down. The stuff
of ego with which we began, the mass
in the upper chamber, filters away
as love accumulates below. Now
I am almost entirely love. I have been
to the banker, the broker, those strange
people, to talk about unit trusts,
annuities, CDs, IRAs, trying
to leave you whatever I can after
I die. I've made my will, written
you a long letter of instructions.
I think about this continually.
What will you do? How
will you live? You can't go back
to cocktail waitressing in the casino.
And your poetry? It will bring you
at best a pittance in our civilization,
a widow's mite, as mine has
for forty-five years. Which is why
I leave you so little. Brokers?
Unit trusts? I'm no financier doing
the world's great business. And the sands
in the upper glass grow few. Can I leave
you the vale of ten thousand trilliums
where we buried our good cat Pokey
across the lane to the quarry?
Maybe the tulips I planted under
the lilac tree? Or our red-bellied
woodpeckers who have given us so
much pleasure, and the rabbits
and the deer? And kisses? And
love-makings? All our embracings?
I know millions of these will be still
unspent when the last grain of sand
falls with its whisper, its inconsequence,
on the mountain of my love below.

QUOTE: "We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day." ~ Edith Lovejoy Pierce

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