Happy New Year! Whether you’re already there, or have a few more hours to wait, we hope that 2015 will be a fantastic year and bring you everything you hope for.
As the celebrations get underway, here are a few interesting New Year traditions from around the world…
In Spain, eat a grape for each strike of the clock at midnight; if you manage to eat all twelve during the chimes, you’ll have twelve months of good luck.
This is the tradition of being first into a house after midnight, in Scotland and Northern England. The first-foot should bring gifts of a coin, bread, salt, coal, or whisky, which represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth and good cheer. The best kind of first-foot is believed to be a tall, dark-haired man.
A tradition from German and English folklore says that you must kiss someone at midnight, and that that person will be significant in your future. If you don’t kiss anyone, it means you’re doomed to a year of loneliness. Apparently.
In Chile, if you want good luck and prosperity in the new year, wear yellow underwear – inside out – and then turn it the right way after midnight.
Making a lot of noise
In the Phillippines, the New Year’s custom is to make a lot of noise at midnight, to frighten away evil spirits. People buy small horns called torotots and also use paputok (firecrackers) as well as banging pots and pans and revving their vehicle engines.
Burning ‘Mr Old Year’
In Colombia, the previous year is seen out by families as they build large stuffed male dolls filled with different materials, and items that they no longer want or that have sad memories attached to them. Then they burn the doll at midnight, which represents burning the past and looking to the future.
The first thing you should eat after midnight in Hungary is lentil soup, because it’s believed that lentils will bring you riches in the new year – and the more lentils you eat, the richer you’ll be.
New Year Dip
In various towns on the Welsh coast, brave swimmers take a dip in the freezing sea on New Year’s Day. Some people do it in fancy dress – and no, we don’t know why.
How will you be celebrating the New Year? Whatever you’re doing we hope you have a great time!
Halloween is one of the world’s oldest celebrations, dating back to possibly 500 AD in Ireland. The celebration was originally the ‘Celtic feast of Samhain’, a pre-Christian festival that began at sunset on 31st October and ended at sunset on 1st November. It was meant to be the night when the veil between this world and the other was at its thinnest, and the dead were very near.
Today Halloween is celebrated in a number of countries across the world. In Mexico and other Latin America countries, Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) honours deceased loved ones and ancestors. The festival runs from midnight on 31st October until 2nd November. Traditionally 1st November is the day for honouring children that have passed, whereas 2nd November is the day for honouring the adult spirits. Families traditionally construct an altar for the dead and decorate it in sweets, flowers, photographs and the deceased’s favourite food and drink. Often a washbasin is left outside with a towel so the spirit can wash before indulging in the feast. Many people around the world, even if they are not directly connected to Mexican culture, are drawn to the concept and imagery of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, so it is continually growing in popularity.
Halloween in the Philippines is called Pangangaluluwà, which is sadly a tradition that is dying out. They have a slightly different version of trick or treating, where children go from door to door and offer a song in exchange for food or money. However, it’s not just any food they are offered; it is a kind of Filipino version of a soul cake, as they believe that every cake eaten is a soul set free in purgatory. The carollers would also be allowed to steal sundry items from the houses that they visit, such as clothes from a clothesline, eggs, vegetable and fruit. The homeowners would explain the thefts by saying it was the ‘spirits returning to the world of the living’.
It wasn’t until the 19th Century that Halloween reached America, and they do things slightly differently to us Brits. ‘Across the Pond’, Halloween marks the beginning of ‘fall’ (autumn). For families it is a time to prepare and create costumes together, compared to Brits, who normally buy pre-made outfits. In the U.S., they also have a slight twist on what to do with the ‘pumpkin guts’ after carving their jack o’lanterns; instead of throwing them away, they roast the remains with salt and cinnamon (I have to say I am very tempted to try this). When it comes to decorating their houses they also take it one step further than our pumpkin outside of your door. (I wish this were the case over here).
Here at EuroTalk we are all dressed up for the big day, from the scary (Frankenstein, skeletons and a bat) to the not so scary (Minnie Mouse, Where’s Wally – or Waldo to our American friends – and a giant baby). And of course, there’s cake. (That’s not necessarily traditional for Halloween in the UK – we just love cake.)
One of our top tips for learning a language is to take a holiday – it not only gives you a chance to practise your new language with the locals but you also get to visit somewhere nice. And why not take the opportunity to visit some of the world’s most amazing (if sometimes slightly bizarre) places while you’re at it?
1. San Alfonso del Mar
Like the world’s largest swimming pool, for instance, which is at San Alfonso del Mar in Chile. If you’re thinking of swimming lengths, you might want to stock up on energy drinks before diving in to this one. It’s more than 1,013 metres long, so paddlers should beware! It also has a 35-metre deep end – not for the unwary swimmer. The Guinness Book of Records named this pool as the biggest in the world, needing 66 million gallons of water to fill it up.
2. Mt HuaShan
Or maybe you’d like to visit a traditional Chinese tea house. What about this one, at the top of Mt. HuaShan? It’s 2,160 metres high and the path to get there is nothing short of terrifying. It’s thought that there may be as many as 100 fatal falls a year, and yet the trail is popular with tourists, keen to visit the teahouse, on the southern summit of the mountain, which used to be a Taoist temple, or the chess pavilion on the east peak.
3. Stewart Island
If bird-watching is your thing, you could visit Stewart Island in New Zealand. It’s one of the most remote destinations in the world, with only one town, Halfmoon Bay (also known as Oban) and an estimated population of just 450 people. The island is the only place to see the Kiwi bird in its natural habitat and is also home to five species of penguin.
4. Pink Lake
Next door in Australia, Pink Lake, just west of Esperance, is worth a visit. As its name would suggest, in certain weather conditions the water in the lake is pink, thanks to a particular kind of algae in the water. And this isn’t the only pink lake in the area. Lake Hillier, on Middle Island, is another example and an even brighter colour.
5. Joffre Lakes
However, if you prefer your lakes blue, the Canadian park of Joffre Lakes in British Columbia comes highly recommended. The lakes are a more traditional, but stunningly beautiful, turquoise blue and surrounded by peaks and glaciers. A trip to Joffre Lakes isn’t complete without an overnight stay, where you can camp under the stars and listen to the ice calving from the glacier.
The Russian island of Kizhi is found almost exactly at the centre of Lake Onega and boasts a spectacular wooden church, the Church of the Transfiguration, which was built in the 18th century without a single nail. Legend says that the lead builder used just one axe for the whole building, and then threw it in the lake when the church was completed, saying, ‘There was not and will not be another one to match it.’
Just a few miles from the popular resort of Fethiye in southwestern Turkey, on the side of a mountain, is the village of Kayaköy. Greek-speaking Christians lived there until the 1920s but the village was abandoned follow a population exchange agreement between Turkey and Greece in 1923. Now a museum and historical monument, Kayaköy is a beautiful but rather eerie ghost town.
8. Capuchin monastery
Speaking of eerie, the Capuchin monastery in Sicily is home to 8,000 mummified corpses in the monastery catacombs. The bodies are all dressed in their best clothes and arranged in different rooms according to the type of person. The oldest in the collection dates from 1599, while the most recent addition is the body of Rosalia Lomabardo, who was embalmed in 1920 and is known as ‘Sleeping Beauty’.
If you’re looking for somewhere a bit different to stay, you could try the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. Made with ice from the Torne River, the hotel offers ice and snow rooms, and runs a survival course every night for new guests on what to wear and how to cope when sleeping in temperatures below zero. But don’t worry – warm rooms are also available if you’re not a fan of the cold.
One extreme to the other – the island of Malapascua in the Phillippines boasts beautiful beaches and is most popular with divers, as it’s the only place in the world to see the pelagic thresher shark. There’s no transport on the island because it’s small enough to walk everywhere, and the only way to arrive on the island is by banca (a local boat ferry).
We hope that’s given you a few ideas for your next holiday. Don’t forget to learn a few words in the local language before you leave! And if we missed your favourite place, let us know in the comments…