New Year’s Eve / Watch Night: Ring in 2015 with a world of traditions

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 31: Champagne toasts, fireworks and rounds of “Auld Lang Syne” ring in the New Year across the globe, welcoming 2015. From the celebrities performing in New York at Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest, to families celebrating in their homes, all of us at ReadTheSpirit wish you a Happy 2015!


In several world countries, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day bring gatherings of family and friends for elaborate meals, fireworks, drinks and parties. Many countries have also handed down traditions through the generations, such as a Mexican custom of eating one grape with each chime of the clock’s bell at midnight. With each grape, a wish is made. Homes in Mexico are decked out in representative colors, all with hopes for a better New Year: red for better luck in life and love, yellow for work, and green for wealth. Sweetbread is baked with a charm inside, and when the bread is served, the recipient of the charm in his slice is believed to be especially blessed for the New Year.

Since 1907, the famous New York City “ball drop” has marked New Year’s Eve and attracted crowds of spectators to the home of the 12-foot wide, nearly 12,000-pound Waterford crystal ball. Notable televised events began in 1956, with Guy Lombardo and his band broadcasting from the ballroom of New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel. During the tenure of Guy Lombardo, young Dick Clark began a broadcast on ABC, to rival the traditional big-band sounds of Lombardo. Following Lombardo’s death in 1977, focus shifted to Dick Clark, who hosted Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve for 33 years. Today, Ryan Seacrest continues to host the Dick Clark tradition on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve with Ryan Seacrest. Last year, Los Angeles began its own tradition of hosting a grand New Year’s Eve event in Grand Park. The public party drew more than 25,000 spectators, and is expected to continue each year.


This year, more than 1 million spectators are expected on the streets near Times Square for Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest. Confirmed to perform will be Taylor Swift, Idina Menzel, country-rocker Brantley Gilbert and Fergie. Elton John will be performing from Brooklyn, and Nick Jonas, One Direction and UK singer Ella Henderson will sing in Times Square. ABC will host the special, which will begin at 8 p.m. in Times Square, New York.


Watch Night became especially meaningful to African Americans when, on New Year’s Eve of 1862, slaves gathered to hear news about Abraham Lincoln’s plan to issue the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The 150th anniversary of that historic declaration occurred two years ago in 2013, but many groups concerned about civil rights now are getting ready for sesquicentennial events marking the final adoption of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in December 1865. Speakers at some local Watch Night events will recall that entire sweep of history.

A quieter, thankful approach to New Year’s Eve has deep roots. Methodists observe “Watch Night” in a custom begun by Methodist founder John Wesley that involves giving thanks for the past year and expressing hopes for the New Year. Some other Protestant groups follow similar traditions. In the Roman Catholic Church, a vigil Mass has become popular on the evening of New Year’s Eve. (Wikipedia has details.)

Groups that prefer an alternative to alcohol-fueled parties also have adopted this practice.

New Year’s Eve party planning?

DECEMBER: Santa Paws, human rights, 3D prevention & spiritual literacy

DECEMBER 2014—The first month of winter in the Northern Hemisphere is often described as a season of light. That’s an affirmation of faith in a month with the least daylight hours of the year. Christians celebrate Christmas; Jews light candles for Hanukkah; and it’s Yule for Wiccans and Pagans.

This month is also known as the season of giving. Consider some of the programs with special December campaigns …


Make the holiday season a little brighter for dogs and cats in your community, as December is Operation Santa Paws. A national initiative to supply animal shelters with much-needed items, Operation Santa Paws encourages the donation of everything from pet toys to blankets and towels, money and food. (Find more ideas here.) Businesses, schools and places of worship can set up a box for donations—just email [email protected] for a JPEG version of a poster to post on donation boxes. Toys and blankets help to drastically reduce stress in animals waiting to be adopted.


Following the atrocities of World War II, world leaders began work on a document outlining basic human rights—eventually producing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An agreement adopted by the United States General Assembly in December of 1948, the Declaration was proclaimed as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” (A simplified version of the document, for youth, is here.) The Declaration touched on rights in areas like politics, economics and culture. Each year, December 10 is kept as Human Rights Day, and that commemoration spans the entire month.


Holiday invitations pile up during the month of December—but don’t forget your responsibility to keep the roadways safe! December is National Drunk & Drugged Driving Prevention Month. If you think these issues won’t affect you, consider this: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 3 in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some point in their lives. (For tips, awareness campaigns, resources and more, visit Before heading out to a holiday party, keep these tips in mind: Plan ahead; always designate a sober driver; and take the keys of anyone who has been drinking and intends to drive. Hosts should provide both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks for their guests, and ensure that no guests leave without a safe driver.


Celebrate the unique and colorful characteristics of the world’s religions this month, during Spiritual Literacy Month. Places of worship, communities, libraries and families can promote respect among the world’s spiritual traditions by encouraging learning and reading. This is a good time to reach out to someone of another faith, and greet him or her for a holiday formerly unknown to you. Gain a greater understanding of world cultures. In need of resources? Read through archives or by category of ReadTheSpirit’s Holidays & Festivals column.

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples: Learn the stories

Indigenous peoples building alliances: Honouring treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.”
2013 theme, International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

FRIDAY, AUGUST 9: Promote equal rights and unheard voices in your community and across the globe, for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. First proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1994, this annual UN day will wrap up its second themed decade next year.

This year on August 9, hundreds of rowers are anticipated at Pier 96 in Manhattan, to honor the 400th anniversary of the first treaty, “Two Row Wampum,” drawn between Dutch immigrants and the Haudenosaunee confederacy in 1613. Attendees have traveled by river and horseback to gather at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza for today’s significant anniversary, which reflects the 2013 theme that highlights arrangements with indigenous peoples for land rights, economic development and principles for peace. (Like this day? Show your support on its Facebook page.)


Of the estimated 370 million indigenous persons worldwide, a majority continues to fight against poverty, loss of history and culture, and for equality in education and jobs. To assist in raising awareness, UNESCO has funded nearly 30 media projects since 2000 with the International Programme for the Development of Communication, helping marginalized people to understand how to produce programs, participate in interviews and gain greater access to information. Indigenous people have much to contribute in improving our world overall, argues the UN. In fact, many believe indigenous people are at the forefront of environmental protection, with specific ideas on how to implement climate change. (UNESCO reported last year.) UNESCO recently created Climate Frontlines, an online forum that reaches more than 50,000 people and facilitates dialogue, documentations and shared Indigenous knowledge of the environment.


A forerunner in the recognition of its indigenous people, Australia has invested $10 million in its platform to raise public awareness and support of Indigenous Australians, with organizations receiving funding for local events and non-Indigenous Australians better understanding the needs and desires of these communities. (Find more at The country at large has issued the National Apology, and proposals are in place to recognize indigenous people in that nation’s constitution. (Get details at


August 9 also marks the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki—which, for Indigenous people, is a painful reminder that nuclear testing has had a shattering effect on many of their communities. Wikipedia has an overview of the August 6 and 9 bombings in 1945. Since those two explosions, more than 2,000 nuclear tests have taken place in isolated regions across the globe—isolated from major population centers, perhaps, but not uninhabited. Countless indigenous communities were effected by having their native lands completely destroyed, and it’s these voices that fight to be heard in telling the history and truth in nuclear testing.

Want more on the tragic relationship between nuclear testing and local communities? Read The Spirit recommends the Oscar-nominated documentary, Radio Bikini, released in 1988 and still a gripping film to watch. While DVDs of the film are no longer being produced for sale, the documentary is available on a number of video subscription and streaming services.

Looking for more? The special event at UN Headquarters, in New York, will be broadcast live starting at 3 p.m. at