Jan. 1 may officially be New Year’s Day, but not all Canadians celebrate the new year on the same date.
Canadians from the Filipino, Jewish, Russian, Ukrainian and Tibetan communities greet the new year at different times and celebrate in different ways.
Polka dots for prosperity
“Preparations begin immediately after Christmas and New Year celebrations start on December 31 and end on January 7,” says Tomas Avendano, founder of Multicultural Helping House and a member of Vancouver’s Filipino community.
On New Year’s Eve, family members share a midnight meal to strengthen family ties.
“I used to celebrate New Year’s with 78 members of my extended family. I’m the eldest and everybody kisses my hand to pay respect and receive blessings,” says Avendano.
Some food traditions show a Chinese influence like noodles for long life and eggs for new life.
“We cannot celebrate anything without roasting a pig. There is food in abundance on the table,” says Avendano.
Homes display 12 round fruits, and people wear polka dots in order to attract prosperity. Before the clock strikes midnight, doors are left wide open for good luck to enter.
“The night before the new year is very noisy with fireworks. Around midnight many people drive around town honking their horns to chase away evil spirits. The more noise you make, the more abundance you will see,” adds Avendano. “We pray for good jobs, good health and good relations.”
Self-reflection and repentance
“The Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, occurs in late September/early October,” says Deborah Tabenkin, program director at the Jewish Community Centre.
Jews believe Rosh Hashanah is also a time when God passes judgement on all beings.
“On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, there is a ceremony called Tashlich where you go to moving water and throw bread into the water. And the symbolism is that you’re getting rid of sins. The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a time of repentance and self-reflection, and then you fast on Yom Kippur to be inscribed into the Book of Life,” says Tabenkin.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are solemnly observed holidays for Jewish people.
“Rosh Hashanah is not so much celebrated because it is a religious holiday. People go to the synagogue to pray and have a festive meal at home,” Tabenkin says.
Apples dipped in honey are eaten on Rosh Hashanah for a good and sweet new year.
Three chances to celebrate
New Year’s Day is a bigger holiday than Christmas in Russia, a legacy of communist times when the New Year took the place of Christmas.
“Russians celebrate New Year’s Day officially on January 1 and then they celebrate old style New Year again on the night between January 13 and 14. Since the revolution we celebrate the new year twice,” says Inna Mikhailov, proprietor of a Russian specialty store in Vancouver.
Although the state follows the Gregorian calendar, the Russian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar.
“Russians keep their Christmas tree till New Year. Our friends here celebrate New Year with their family. We go to their house with presents for the old style New Year,” says Mikhailov.
On New Year’s Eve, Russians enjoy a late supper party with family and friends.
“Traditionally we have blintzes (pancakes) with red caviar and Olivier salad,” says Mikhailov. “Many Russians now also celebrate Chinese New Year in February by eating out at a Chinese restaurant. Russian people look for new traditions to make life interesting and they like the Chinese symbols.”
Grains for good luck
“[For us], New Year’s Day is January 14. On New Year’s Eve, we have a banquet and a dance called Malanka at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre,” says Gladys Andreas, community organizer.
Ukrainian dancers entertain festival goers as they enjoy perogies and cabbage rolls with sauerkraut.
“When I was little and lived on a farm, on New Year’s Eve the guys would get dressed in costumes and go from farmhouse to farmhouse playing pranks on farmers,” says Andreas.
According to Andreas, some traditions have been lost with people moving into the city. However, her church still organizes a group to go sowing grain from house to house on New Year’s Day. After obtaining permission, members sprinkle grain on the floor while saying a verse.
“Rye and wheat and all other grains, for your good luck and your good health, may the crop that you reap be better than last year,” Andreas recites.
Time to seek advice
“This year, the Tibetan New Year, or Losar, will be on February 24,” says Tashi Tsetan, community volunteer.
Houses and monasteries are cleaned and decorated with colourful prayer flags.
“On the night of February 21, we have a dumpling soup that predicts our fortune,” says Tsetan.
He adds that it is a time to put away negative thoughts to start the new year afresh.
“On Losar, families visit monasteries to pay respect to dharma teachers and get advice for the year ahead,” Tsetan says.
People enjoy eating festive food like fried pastries called khapse.
“We burn juniper leaves, chant mantras and wish good for the country and humanity,” says Tsetan.
Common human aspiration
All cultures deem the newborn year to be an auspicious time. Although the cultural communities celebrate New Year’s Day in different ways, they all desire a happy and prosperous year ahead.