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New Year's Customs & Free Booklets

On New Years' Eve in Miami, Cubans and many other Hispanics celebrate the coming year - and ward off bad luck - by supplying everyone with 12 red grapes to eat, plus a "champagne" glass, usually plastic and wide, not a flute, filled with sidra, a low-alcohol slightly fizzy cider.  Even the children partake - it wouldn't do to let the kids have bad luck, after all.   Then many with kids or those in their second childhood,  and connections to purchase illegal fireworks, set off their own pyrotechnic show, usually in the middle of the street.

In this year of unprecedented disaster, as I expected, the fireworks started on Christmas Eve (including the occasional idiot who goes outside and fires a gun into the air), and finished with an extra flourish on New Year's Eve in an exaggerated patriotic fervor. 

One of our tenants' neighbors always celebrated the holidays by getting drunk and emptying an Uzi submachine gun into the air.  When we replaced the roof on the rental house, I showed our tenant the bullets imbedded in the roof  (we used to inspect our roofs after 4th of July and New Years and drop a dollop of roof glop on each protruding bullet, but the problem has nearly disappeared through public education efforts, and after a baby was killed in its crib a few years back).  

The next holiday our tenant had a long talk with the neighbor, telling him about the bullets and asking him not to do it.  Never the less, at midnight, the fellow cut loose.  Our tenant rushed out with fire in his eye, and found the neighbor, barely able to stand upright,  happily shooting into the ground.   Since he was too drunk to listen to reason, our tenant persuaded him (not true) that there were gas, water and electric lines down there where he was shooting, and please put the gun away before we all lost our utilities or he shot off his toe. 

I  started our New Year by wearing the brightest red item I own, and then having a southern supper of black eyed peas and hawg jowls  for luck (actually I substituted ham for the ugly pig part - hope the bad-year gremlins didn't notice), then took a nap since the close of December sales for Fuller Brush had been 5 PM on the 31st, and Watkins shortly after, so it was a working end of year.   I got up in time, however, to eat a sweet to guarantee a sweet coming year, another custom picked up somewhere, then wear a silly hat and have a glass of sidra and 12 grapes with a neighbor and some of my family - my daughter and granddaughter having come for a visit -, followed by the neighbors' fireworks show.

A few years back I remember when a neighbor was setting off roman candles, lighting them and running away.  Rather plump and not the most graceful person, he knocked one over trying to arise from his squatting stance.   Every fireball shot spectacularly down the street - to explode right under a neighbors car.   Neighbor came running out hysterically, but by some New Years' miracle, the car didn't catch on fire.

Every year there's a disaster somewhere with fireworks, usually not as horrific as the one in Peru this year, in which over 300 people were killed and a city block burned down.  I remember in school there was a boy whose thumb and index finger were blown off with a large firecracker.  They had repositioned his middle finger to form a crude thumb.  I used to see kids setting off firecrackers in coke bottles!   I was thinking about this close to 12:45 when someone with more money than sense started setting off some huge firecrackers or possibly homemade bombs about a mile northeast of us.  First we'd see a flash, then a couple of seconds later a boom that would rattle windows.  The "show" went on for about 20 minutes.

What we need is some electronic device that would make the required loud noises and light flashes to "drive away the evil spirits"  Chinese style and welcome the New Year. (Included are some great hints for preparing for, the  enjoying and following through on your New Year celebration and resolutions, Chinese way.)  Maybe they could even make it put on some kind of harmless light show.   Would people go for it?  Maybe.  But the risk involved with fireworks also probably symbolizes the risks we face - usually courageously - every new year.  it's literally buying a "pig in a poke" (a bag) each year.  Who would have guessed at the altered New York skyline by the end of 2001?  It's surely a good thing we can't see the future - and face each New Year with hopes, rituals and expectations of joys to come.

At least the grapes are a healthy start, full of antioxidants and phytonutrients that do a body a great deal of good.  Tasty, too.  Send for a free booklets from the California Table Grape Commission with lots of recipes featuring - ta da! - California Grapes!  Plus a paper on phytonutients found in grapes.

By the way, I'm not superstitious, but I find these customs both fun and a link to others all over the world.  And it's like the story of the old  hard-drinking rabble-rousing stogie-smoking codger who never had darkened the door of a church, who suddenly started attending regularly in his old age, sneaking in and sitting in the last pew.   One Sunday, upon leaving church,  the minister shook his hand, thanked him for coming, and commented, "I'm glad to see that you've finally got religion." 

"Naw," the old fellow mumbled, "I don't believe in that stuff.  But at my age, why take chances?"

If you know of, or take part in, any different New Year's customs,please enter your comments below.

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Web Site by Bess W. Metcalf   Copyrightę April 1999 - 201
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