CELEBRATING THE NEW YEAR
All countries have their own customs and traditions for celebrating the arrival of another year and most of them involve food, wine and fun. Here are some of the more interesting events that take place in Europe and Wales.
In Estonia, people decorate villages, visit friends and prepare lavish meals. Some believe that people should eat seven, nine, or twelve times on New Year's Eve. These are lucky numbers in Estonia; it is believed that for each meal consumed, the person gains the strength of that many men the following year.
A Finnish tradition is to tell the fortunes of the New Year by melting "tin" (actually lead) in a tiny pan on the stove and throwing it quickly in a bucket of cold water. The resulting blob of metal is analysed, for example by interpreting shadows it casts by candlelight. These predictions are however never taken seriously.
In France, New Year's Eve (la Saint-Sylvestre) is usually celebrated with a feast. This feast customarily includes special dishes including; foie gras, seafood such as oysters, and champagne. The celebration can be a simple, intimate dinner with friends and family or a much fancier ball. You would expect nothing less of the French!
New Year's Eve in Greece has many traditions. During the day, children sing the New Year's carols to be given money or treat. Then, it is time to have family lunch or dinner. In the evening, people cook a pie named "King's pie” (Vasilopita), which is a cake flavoured with almonds. They put a coin wrapped in aluminium foil inside the pie. After a fireworks show, they cut the Vasilopita and serve it. The person that gets the wrapped coin is the lucky person of the day and he or she is also blessed for the rest of the year.
In Hungary, many years ago, some people believed that animals were able to speak on New Year's Eve, and that onion skins sprinkled with salt could indicate a rainy month.
In Italy an ancient tradition involves eating lentil stew when a bell tolls midnight, one spoonful per bell. This is supposed to bring good fortune; the round lentils represent coins.
In Portugal the New Year celebration is taken very seriously. The tradition is to drink champagne and eat twelve raisins – one for each month of the year, making a wish for each.
Here in Wales we have the ancient tradition of Calennig which originally meant giving gifts of money on New Year’s Day, though nowadays it is customary to give bread and cheese. In Cardiff crowds enjoy live music, ice-skating, funfairs and fireworks. Many of the celebrations take place at Cardiff Castle and Cardiff City Hall. If you are going there from Wenvoe make sure you have a lift home as taxis and buses may be scarce.
In the valleys New Year's Eve is marked with the Nos Galan road race over 3 miles, which is held in Mountain Ash. The race celebrates the life and achievements of the runner Guto Nyth Bran who was born in 1700. It is run over the route of Guto's first competitive race. Guto was born in Llwyncelyn near Porth. It was said that his sprinting first came to be noticed as he was helping his father herd sheep, when he managed to chase and catch a wild hare. One legend has him running from his home to Pontypridd and back, a total distance of 7 miles before his mother's kettle had boiled. Another tale is that he could blow out a candle and be in bed before the light faded.
We all have ways of celebrating the New Year whether with family or friends, but at this time of year let us remember those who are alone and perhaps call on a lonely neighbour to wish them well. Finally for anyone in Wenvoe without a plan there is always the recently refurbished Wenvoe Arms where the landlord – Digby – will be pleased to welcome you.