Our canvassing of opinion tells us you either love New Year or hate it. There is very little middle ground. If pitched correctly and tastefully New Year can be a wonderful continuation of the holiday season – a marvellous celebration of family and friendship.

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But for some New Year’s Eve brings with it every chance of that maudlin feeling setting in, perhaps alongside a resolution to make the year about to dawn so much better than the last. On what side of the New Year wall do you fall? Maybe this selection of traditions and ruminations will help you solidify your position.

Most people will have a story to tell to support their opinions, whether it be good New Year Champagne _66472681or bad. If you love New Year then you can skip the next couple of paragraphs and consider some of our options for celebrations further down the page. If, however, you are more of the ‘Baa! Humbug!’ approach then here are a few thoughts to ponder. What exactly is at the bottom of your dislike of New Year? Is it just too much hype and expense after all of the food drink new year_126201074Christmas activities or do you feel it’s just another day, so why get over-excited about it? Is it perhaps that the dawn of a New Year forces too much reflection on what has happened in the previous year and what lies ahead or is it something else entirely?

A suggestion to make the event more manageable – and hopefully enjoyable – is to think of it as a time when you can be quietly appreciative of the positive things in your life, both large and small. The effort involved in feeling either irritated or happy is really about the same if you think about it. So select a manner and scale of occasion that focuses on what’s important to you – kind friends and family, good food and wine. This will allow you to mark the start of the New Year in a more contented, less irritated, way than in previous years.  Here are a few suggestions for you to ponder.

Pressure to Celebrate

If you are not a great fan of New Year’s Eve celebrations you may feel the whole world is in on a joke to which you quite plainly don’t get the punch line. Could you really be missing out? Obviously not, you tell yourself. Surely New Year’s Eve is a night for amateur drunks, rip-off merchants and tears approaching midnight. Well, consider the following thoughts.

Party-PopperBooking a restaurant or venue for New Year’s Eve can be expensive. Throwing money at an occasion does not make it better if you are simply not in the mood to celebrate amid crowds of strangers. Then again, surround yourself with a wonderful group of family and/or friends and it could be money well spent. Choose a familiar restaurant in your neighbourhood and it could be special. Remember, however, to book well in advance and be prepared to leave a credit card deposit.

If you like the idea of a large gathering and don’t want to cram into a restaurant orfood buffet table_162569411 club, why not think of hosting something yourself. An informal party to see in the New Year, with finger food and a bring-a-bottle policy, could be arranged. The invitations could be emailed five to six weeks out to give people time to reserve the date. Party games are a possibility – but know your audience, as it were. Games might not be to everyone’s liking.

If you like the idea of marking New Year’s Eve in some way but don’t like thoughts of noise and mess and spills on carpets then you might consider a smaller, more intimate dinner party with your closest friends. The menu need not be complicated. Just ensure you have a few bottles of bubbly and just enough festive spirit left to play host and this could be the perfect way to welcome a new year. Plus, if they are your very best friends in the world, maybe they won’t mind you becoming just a tad sentimental or morose for a spell.

Theme Night

A party or dinner gathering could be the perfect excuse to suggest putting on the Ritz. Ask your guests to wear black tie and flowing cocktail dresses for an evening of unadulterated glamour. It has to be bubbly in champagne coupes and smoked salmon canapés on silver salvers, with lashings of sophisticated music and elegant chat.

We have asked our nearest and dearest, our friends and colleagues, what their take is on fancy dress parties. It’s all right for Mr. Benn, said one, but I’d rather shove red-hot pokers in my eyes. Love them more than life itself, said another as he climbed into a giant bear suit. We think they were being sincere. Clearly another New Year ‘divide’.

Party-PopperWell why not combine the two concepts? Suggest an Oscar night on New Year’s Eve, where guests can dress as their favourite movie stars or characters. Those who are not so comfortable in fancy dress can simply travel the black tie and long frock route. It will be ever so glamorous all round, even if someone decides to turn up as Jessica Rabbit.

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Light Up the Sky with Fireworks

Year-on-year fireworks are big business at New Year. There are truly spectacular firework displays to mark the occasion in iconic cities like Sydney, Paris and London. Hundreds of thousands of people turn out each year to watch these staggering shows. Many cities in the UK now have their own pyrotechnics – and we are increasingly taking to setting off our own humble collection in our own back gardens at New Year.

New Year 165359921 copyIt is perfectly legal to let fireworks off any time of year in the UK and any day, including Sunday – not just on or around Bonfire Night. But rules do apply. You can’t let fireworks off after 11pm on regular days, after midnight on Bonfire Night and after 1am on New Year’s Day. The cut off is also 1am for Diwali and Chinese New Year. It is illegal to let fireworks off in the street or a public place without licensed permission. You have to be 18 or over to purchase fireworks, including sparklers. Professional fireworks are only available to companies with all year insurance and licensed storage.

There are numerous online stockists, many providing New Year firework packages for a few hundred pounds or so. For example, Epic Fireworks have a “Bells of Big Ben” collection and a “Go Out On A Bang” package at epicfireworks.com. It is only legal to buy fireworks year-round from this kind of reputable, licensed shop – although it is possible to purchase fireworks from other registered sellers from October 15-November 10, December 26-31 and three days before Diwali and Chinese New Year. This is when you are likely to see fireworks for sale in supermarkets and smaller shops, like newsagents. It is always advisable, of course, to follow the firework code and be conscious that drunken New Year revelry and the lighting of fireworks is not an advisable mix. Attending the afore-mentioned organised city centre displays is an option – although tickets are now needed to attend many to avoid overcrowding, including the spectacular London display by the River Thames.

Did you know…New Year in the Roman calendar did not start in January until 153BC? Before that, the first month of the year had been March. The names for the months September to December were named for their numerical position in the old calendar. But then came the decree that January 1 was to be the start of the New Year. January was named after Janus, the two-faced god who could look both to the future and the past: the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, passages and endings. 

Party Bombs

Bring the fireworks indoors. When these indoor table fireworks pop your guests will be showered with a combination of confetti, flutterfetti, streamers, blow shooters, masks, bowties and even rocket balloons. There are many online suppliers, some taking bespoke requests  – celebrationcrackers.co.uk; designercrackers.co.uk  and they come in a wide array of colours.

Gently Does It

You could always see in the New Year quietly: raise a glass, watch the fireworks explode across the London skyline on TV and retire to bed. That might leave more energy, perhaps, to mark the New Year with a relaxed and delicious lunch with family and friends on January 1st. Bookings will be more readily available on January 1st than December 31st. Then again, an open house on that day might be more your style. Having loved ones come and go throughout the day – drinking champagne or warming themselves on mulled wine, eating smoked ham carved off the bone with crisp pickles, crusty bread and Christmas chutney – could be one last festive hurrah before thoughts, for some, turn to work and school.

Elf Helper: Visit other pages in this Parties & Hosting section for further advice – and also check out ideas you may be able to adopt and adapt from The Christmas Table section, including Table Dressing and Christmas Crackers.

Party-PopperNew Year – An International Taster

First-Footing

The New Year tradition of first-foot has its origins in Scottish and Northern English folklore. Traditionally the first-footer was the first man to enter the house at New Year and he brought gifts such as bread, salt, coal, coins and drink to represent a year to come full of food, warmth, prosperity and good cheer. He was usually tall and dark-haired. In some areas it was considered unlucky for a fair-haired man or woman to enter the household first. It is acceptable in many places for the first-footer to be a member of the household – as long as they are outside the house at the stroke of midnight and then enter.

First-footing is the visiting of family and friends immediately after midnight. This is particular popular in Scotland, where the symbolic gifts might include shortbread, whisky and a rich fruitcake called black bun. It will perhaps be a surprise to some that traditionally no alcohol was consumed until after the bells rang out at midnight. It was also important that the house was thoroughly cleaned in preparation for welcoming in the New Year. The evening meal, customarily a steak pie served in a large, shallow, oval dish called an ashet (the word is taken from the French for plate, ‘assiette’), was taken much later at around 10 o’clock. This allowed time to get changed in readiness for the bells and to sustain you for the long evening ahead.

Hogmanay

New Year in Scotland makes its Christmas cousin seem somewhat inadequate. It’s huge! Hogmanay refers to the last day of the year but is a catch all for the entire New Year celebration. January 2nd, as well as New Year’s Day, is a Bank Holiday in Scotland so Hogmanay fever can run a couple of days if the spirit is willing. thistle scotland flower_120057406The Hogmanay tradition of singing the Robert Burns poem “Auld Lang Syne” has spread throughout the world.

Celebrations in the Scottish capital Edinburgh in 1996-97, with some 400,000 people involved, were recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest New Year party. Health and Safety laws have more recently seen numbers reduced. In some years since, organised New Year events in Edinburgh were cancelled because of bad weather.

Thousands flock to Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire to witness the old and spectacular custom of fireball swinging. Locals pack chicken wire with flammable material, attach these balls to a chain or wire, light them and swing them over their heads as they set off up the high street on New Year’s Eve. In the fishing village of Burghead on the Moray Firth, another New Year custom is Burning the Clavie. The clavie is a nailed cask, filled with tar, ignited and carried on a pole through the town, before it becomes part of a bonfire. Charcoal from the clavie, when put up chimneys, is said to ward off spirits and witches. The date for the ceremony is January 11 – the old New Year’s Day in the Julian calendar.

“The White Heather Club” was the big New Year’s Eve television programme in Scotland from 1957 to 1968. Hosted by kilt-clad Andy Stewart, it always began with “Come In, Come In It’s Nice to See You” and ended with “Haste Ye Back”.

Party-PopperGood Day Vienna

Austrian capital Vienna hosts an annual New Year’s Day concert watched by tens of millions of people in 90 countries around the world. Tickets to attend the event in person are like gold dust – even more so for the 75th birthday concert that was held on January 1st, 2015. Indeed, such is the demand, lots are drawn for tickets at the New Year Vienna_158857874beginning of each year via the official website wienerphilharmoniker.at.

The setting is the magnificent Golden Hall of the Musikverein and the programme comprises upbeat and nostalgic music from the Johann Strauss family and its contemporaries. The second encore is Johan Strauss II’s “The Blue Danube” waltz – during which the orchestra offer a New Year greeting to the audience. Another tradition sees the audience take directions from the conductor as they clap along to Johann Strauss I’s “Radetsky March”. Dancers from the Vienna State Opera Ballet also take part in the show. Dame Vivienne Westwood created their costumes for the 2014 show to stunning effect.

The concerts began in 1939 during the darkest time in Austria’s history as Nazi influence cast dark shadows. That first concert was held, for the one and only time, on New Year’s Eve not New Year’s Day.

Dinner for One

“Dinner for One” is a television programme of less than 20 minutes in length that has become a New Year tradition in German-speaking areas of Europe. It was created in Britain but is unfamiliar to most people in the UK. There are two versions – the original black and white edition from 1963 and a remake in colour a few years later. The same actors were used each time: Freddie Frinton and May Warden. Also known as “The 90th Birthday”, this two-hander comedy was written by British author Lauri Wylie for the theatre. German TV station NDR recorded a 1963 performance of the piece in English, with an introduction in German. It went on to become the most frequently repeated television programme ever and became a staple of the German New Year’s Eve schedules. Versions are also shown in Scandinavia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, but not necessarily on New Year’s Eve. For example, Norway has a tradition of airing the programme on December 23. Miss Sophie is the person eating dinner for one, while butler James tends to her every need. She has outlived her guests from previous dinners, so James does his best to fill in for them as well as serve. He’s told: “The same procedure as every year, James.” By the end of the dinner, James has consumed sixteen glasses of wine and is very drunk. Miss Sophie tells James that she wishes to retire to bed. Hand in hand, they head to the staircase, and James says: “By the way, the same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” Miss Sophie replies happily: “The same procedure as every year, James.” And James concludes: “Well, I’ll do my very best.” This English “same procedure” line has become a familiar catchphrase in Germany and Austria.

New York Ball Drop

The famous ball drop in New York City’s Times Square has been taking place since 1907 and annually averages about a million spectators. It is the most iconic American New Year’s Eve celebration. The 5,386kg, 3.7m-diameter Waterford Crystal ball is lowered down a pole atop One Times Square to signal the arrival of a new year. The design is based on the now obsolete time ball signalling devices. Atlanta adapted the concept and has a peach drop to signify the peach state of Georgia.

Dick Clark hosted his ABC network specials, “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve”, from Times Square for fully three decades from 1974 until suffering a stroke. He would later make appearances on specials presented by new host Ryan Seacrest. Clark died in 2012.

Holy Sylvester

The last night of the year is known in Austria as the “Holy Sylvester” – traditionally a night of fools and fun, frolics and fireworks, dinners and dancing. You see December 31st is also St. Sylvester’s Day, honouring Pope Sylvester I. He led the church from 314 until his death on December 31st 335. Legend tells how he cured people of leprosy and baptised the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. Other countries and regions may refer to New Year’s Eve by using a variant of Sylvester’s name including Bavaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Bleigiessen

The German and Austrian tradition of “Bleigiessen” involves melting small pieces of lead on a spoon over a candle flame and then dropping the lead into ice-cold water. Shapes are quickly formed by the hardened lead. Wax may also be used. The shape of the cooled lead supposedly determines the future of that person for the year to come. But of course, different people interpret the shapes in a multitude of ways. Such New Year’s Eve ‘Silvesterblei Sets’ can be purchased in most department stores in Germany and are available online. These kits come complete with lead figures, a spoon and a list of possible shapes and their meanings. For example, a bee shape means “prospect of marriage”, while a dagger shape suggests “you will be victorious” and a hat shape predicts “good news”.

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“Auld Lang Syne” by Robert Burns (1759-1796)

Burns was a Scottish poet and lyricist – Scotland’s favourite son. He is annually commemorated on Burns Night, which is held on January 25th. This is an occasion of great Scottish nationalism, but he is also celebrated worldwide. His poem reads:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to min’?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And days o’ lang syne?

 

We twa hae run about the braes,

And pu’d the gowans fine;

But we’ve wander’d monie a weary fit,

Sin’ auld lang syne.

 

We taw hae paidl’d i’ the burn,

Frae morning sun till dine;

But seas between us braid hae roar’d

Sin auld lang syne.

 

And here’s a hand my trusty fiere!

And gie’s a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught,

For auld lang syne.

 

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp,

And surely I’ll be mine;

And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

 

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll take a cup o’kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

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But the song version of “Auld Lang Syne” is most often sung with the following lyrics:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

And old lang syne?

 

CHORUS: For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne,

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

 

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!

And surely I’ll buy mine!

And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.

(CHORUS)

We two have run about the slopes,

And picked the daisies fine;

But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,

Since auld lang syne.

(CHORUS)

We two have paddled in the stream,

From morning sun till dine;

But seas between us broad have roared

Since auld lang syne.

(CHORUS)

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!

And give me a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll take a right good-will draught,

For auld lang syne.

(CHORUS to end)