New Year: Ring in 2016 with global traditions and fresh perspectives

New Year's 2016 greeting

Photo courtesy of Pixabay


Fireworks, champagne toasts and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest kick off the start of the Gregorian year worldwide, as revelers usher in the year 2016. In several world countries, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day means family gatherings, elaborate meals and plenty of parties. From the United States to Mexico, Ireland and Japan, time-honored traditions meet the latest global trends on New Year’s Eve In New York, celebrities and party-goers watch the famed “ball drop” in Times Square, counting the seconds as the 12,000-pound crystal ball lowers to ground level.


New York at night with lights and confetti for New Year's, crowds

New Year’s Eve in New York’s Times Square. Photo by Anthony Quintano, courtesy of Flickr

For many, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day traditions span centuries. In Mexico, it is tradition to eat one grape with each chime of the clock’s bell at midnight, making a wish with each grape. A special sweetbread is baked for the holiday, and in homes across the country, red, yellow and green decorations are hung, in hopes of luck in the New Year in life, love, work and wealth. In Korea, ancestors are paid tribute at the New Year, and in Canada, the United States and the UK, Polar Bear Plunges have steadily been gaining popularity as a New Year’s Day custom. In Russia, some blini is in order for a proper New Year’s party. Tradition traces the thin pancakes back to ancient Slavs, and today, Russian blini may be stuffed with cheese or served in a variety of other ways. (Find a recipe and more at

From Times Square: Since 1907, the famous New York City “ball drop” has marked New Year’s Eve for millions in Times Square and for billions more through televised broadcasting of the event. 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 to broadcast on ABC, and following Lombardo’s death in 1977, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve soon became the hit of the nation. Dick Clark hosted the show for 33 years, and in 2015, Ryan Seacrest will host his 10th show, which is now called Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.

Celebrity lineup: Confirmed for this year is headliner Carrie Underwood, who will be joined by Luke Bryan, Wiz Khalifa and Demi Lovato. One Direction will headline the Billboard Hollywood Party in Los Angeles, and singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett will make a live appearance from his concert at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. This year, the show will pack 38 performances into more than 5 hours of music, beginning on Thursday, Dec. 31 at 8/7 c on the ABC Television Network. (The show can also be viewed live online.) Singer-songwriter Taylor Swift is set to release the world premiere of her new music video, “Out of the Woods,” during ABC’s telecast.


In some Christian churches, New Year’s Eve is a night of quiet reflection, prayer and thanksgiving. There’s a long-standing Methodist tradition called “Watch Night,” a custom started by Methodism’s founder John Wesley, and some Protestant groups follow similar traditions. In Greece and in Orthodox Christian communities, New Year’s is spent singing Kalanda—carols—and eating the vasilopita, or St. Basil’s, cake. On January 1, the octave of Christmas culminates in the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.


Two glasses filled with bubbly champagne against dark background

Photo by Bill Masson, courtesy of Flickr

In Japan, New Year’s preparations begin weeks in advance, with pressed rice cakes prepared in a variety of flavors and often cooked with broth for a traditional New Year’s soup. At midnight on Dec. 31, Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times, which is an auspicious number in Buddhist tradition. After midnight, many families head to a local temple to pray, and then feast together afterward. The following morning, New Year’s greetings are exchanged and delicacies like sashimi and sushi are consumed.


  • Drink recipes are at and L.A. Times. Looking for a Mocktail? Delicious combinations are available from HGTV.

Rosh Hashanah: Preparing for the (sweet) Jewish New Year 5776

Down on plate with Jewish writing on it, bowl of honey surrounded by three red apples

Apples and honey are traditional fare on Rosh Hashanah. Photo by Jeremy Price, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 13: Blasts from the shofar and rich dishes made with honey mean it’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year—and it’s also the start of the High Holidays.

On the first and second days of the Jewish month of Tishri, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated by Jews around the world. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means “head of the year,” or “first of the year,” and many Jews use this period of time to make resolutions and commitments for self-improvement. Sins are “cast” into a river and honey is consumed for hopes of a sweet New Year.

Do you know someone who is Jewish? Wish him or her L’shanah tovah—“For a good year!”

On Rosh Hashanah, work is not permitted and many more traditional adherents spend the day in the synagogue. The shofar, a ram’s horn blown like a trumpet, is one of the holiday’s most famous symbols—but Rosh Hoshanah also comes with special readings and prayers for a good new year.

Traditionally, Jewish teaching associates Rosh Hashanah with the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, and the day’s services focus on the relationship between G_d and humanity. (Learn more from Judaism 101.)


Rosh Hashana card from early 20th Century

An elaborate Rosh Hashanah greeting card from a century ago from the collection of the Jewish Museum in New York City.

Of the sweet foods consumed on Rosh Hashanah, none is more popular than honey. Jerusalem, biblically referred to as “the land of milk and honey,” is yet another reason to eat honey on this special holiday. Most Jews eat apples or bread dipped in honey, or create dishes that incorporates these ingredients. (Wikipedia has details.)

Prayers near a body of water accompany the practice of tashlich, which is the “casting off” of sins. The faithful travel to flowing water and empty their pockets into the river, symbolically casting off their sins. Typically, small bits of bread are placed in the pockets before tashlich, and later “cast off” during the ritual.

What are the High Holidays? Sometimes referred to as “High Holidays,” or “High Holy Days,” this is the period of Hashanah and Yom Kippur and usually the phrase includes the 10 days in between. One description of this period says, in essence, that G_d opens the books of judgment as the new year begins and finally, on Yom Kippur, the judgment for the year is “sealed.”

Shofar on white background

A shofar. Photo by The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, courtesy of Flickr


For decades, rabbis and volunteers have been bringing the sound of the shofar to those who cannot attend synagogue services, whether due to age, poor health or occupation. Though driving a car is not permitted on holidays for traditionally observant Jews, some of these “house-call” shofar blowers are willing to walk for hours to add this important holiday element. ( reported.) Jews: To request a home visit on Rosh Hashanah, contact your local Chabad Center.

Beatles ticket to an Israeli concert that never happenedThe Beatles in Israel? One of the most fascinating historical stories about Israel published as the year 5775 draws to a close is this lengthy column by Jewish Press writer Saul Jay Singer about a Beatles concert that might have taken place in 1965—but never did. Among other intriguing details about the ill-fated show, Singer found a ticket that promoters printed in preparation for the concert. The Beatles are on our minds, here at ReadTheSpirit, after the recent OurValues series by Charles Honey about the band’s enduring influence in our lives. Seems like an appropriate set of holiday dots to connect: Honey, the Beatles and Israel, too?

Want to make a perfect brisket? It’s a holiday favorite in many Jewish homes and, this week, FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis (with guest writer Debbi Eber) tackle the tips and techniques for a perfect brisket dinner.

Sweet recipes: Looking to bake up something sweet and scrumptious this Rosh Hashanah? Try the Jewish Chronicle’s honey cake trifle; Huffington Post’s 21 recipes with honey and apples; or’s granola baked apples. For an entire menu of Rosh Hashanah recipes, check out AllRecipes, Epicurious, Food Network and Martha Stewart.

New Year: Jains usher in Vira Nirvana Samvat 2541

Large marble statue of man sitting with legs crossed, hands in lap, eyes closed, meditating

A marble depiction of Lord Mahavir in Delhi, India. Jains count the years of this era as having begun with Lord Mahavir’s attainment of moksha (nirvana). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 24: Jains usher in a New Year!

According to Jain belief, a man named Mahavira attained moksha (nirvana) on Diwali night of 527 B cE. As Mahavira was the 24th and final Tirthankar (person who has conquered the cycle of birth and death) of this portion of our current cosmic time cycle, Jains began counting the calendar year from the date of Mahavira’s attainment. This year, Jains will welcome the year 2541.

On the first day of the New Year, Jains perform Snatra Puja at the temple and offer sweets. Fresh account books are opened, and business accounts from last year have been settled. Vira Nirvana Samvat (era) began with Mahavir’s enlightenment, and Jains also recognize that the chief disciple of Mahavir attained kevala jnana (omniscience, or supreme knowledge) on the morning of the New Year. At the temple today, Jains perform special morning worship.

The Jain calendar is lunisolar—that is, based on the position of the moon in relation to earth, and also adjusted to coincide with the sun.

Ethiopians and Rastafari mark Enkutatash, New Year, 40th anniversary

Dark-skinned boy holding out orange flower  with yellow flowers in background

An Ethiopian New Year card. Photo courtesy of the International Livestock Research Institute and Flickr

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: Harvest and autumn themes take center stage in many September holidays and celebrations, but in Ethiopia, the opposite is true: Today is Enkutatash, the first day of the Ethiopian New Year and the end of the rainy season. Flowers are bursting into bloom in the fields, and young children gather bouquets to bring to friends. Enkutatash typically begins in church and leads to traditional shared meals, the exchange of New Year’s songs and greetings. (Wikipedia has details.) Many Ethiopians recall, today, the return of the Queen of Sheba from her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem.

Did you know? The Ethiopian calendar is based on the Coptic calendar, which was fixed to the Julian calendar in 25 BCE. The New Year date is August 29 on the Julian calendar—which, given the current 13-day gap between calendars—pegs Enkutatash as September 11 on the Gregorian calendar.

Beyond Ethiopia, many families around the world have begun marking Enkutatash. The Ethiopian African Millennium Group promoted a massive festival in 2007, and large celebrations have taken place in Washington, San Jose and Seattle. Long before the Western festivals for Enkutatash, though, the Rastafari—ardent believers in late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as the Messiah—have marked this event, with Nyabinghi drumming sessions, shared meals and joy.

Hungry? Try an easy-to-follow recipe for traditional Enkutatash wat (stew), courtesy of In Culture Parent.


Rastafari and Ethiopians may note tomorrow’s 40th anniversary of the ousting of Emperor Haile Selassie, by the Dergue junta. On September 12, 1974, reformist officers toppled the monarchy that had ruled Ethiopia for centuries. Emperor Haile Selassie—nicknamed Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings—could trace his lineage back thousands of years, to (many believe) the Queen of Sheba. The final emperor of Ethiopia had ruled 26 million subjects and gained the worship of growing numbers of Rastafari—many of whom still believe today.

Mahayana New Year: Buddhists meditate, gather with family and friends

Two smiling Mahayana Buddhists in front of city buildings, additional monks in background

Mahayana Buddhists in Nepal. Photo courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, JANUARY 16: Most of world marked a Gregorian New Year just two weeks ago, but for Mahayana Buddhists, the New Year comes today: on the full moon day of January. Though customs and moon sightings vary by region, devotees in Mahayana countries—such as Tibet, Korea, Mongolia, China, Japan, Nepal, Vietnam and Indonesia—mark the New Year as a time of meditation.

Though Buddhism stresses the importance of frequent and even daily self-reflection, the New Year stands apart as celebrated with visits among family and friends and the release of old karma. In many regions, statues of Buddha are bathed in a sacred ceremony. Having cleaned their homes in preparation for the New Year, many homes host a feast of traditional foods and the exchange of well wishes.  A quieter, more solemn custom involves the printing of past sins onto slips of paper, then casting them into a fire in attempts to free oneself from the negative consequences of bad karma and to garner a fresh start.

Did you know? The Mahayana tradition began in India and claims 56 percent of Buddhist practitioners—the largest tradition within Buddhism today. Traditions within Mahayana include Zen, Chinese Chan, Pure Land, Tiantai, Nichiren and Vajrayana.

Tu B’Shevat (or Tu Bishvat) celebrates renewal of life

This photograph of an almond tree's first buds was taken in Jerusalem by Yair Haklai on February 2, 2013. Photo released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

This photograph of an almond tree’s first buds was taken in Jerusalem by Yair Haklai on February 2, 2013. Photo released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 15, to SUNSET THURSDAY, 16: This week, we welcome two Jewish friends of ReadTheSpirit to tell the story of this minor-yet-fascinating holiday. First, we hear from scholar and author Joe Lewis, who many of our readers know as the husband of FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis. And, yes, Bobbie Lewis has contributed her own Tu B’Shevat column—with a delicious recipe!

Here’s Joe Lewis …

Tu B’Shevat is a mystery for American readers in northern states! How can we pretend that this is a new year for trees when the ground is frozen solid?

“Ahhh,” the Rabbi explains, “That’s a good question. But, in Israel spring has come, the northern hillsides are about to be carpeted with delicate wildflowers, and the trees are in bud.”

“But Rabbi, that’s nuts! How can you say the trees are in bud when the Hebrew calendar floats to and fro against the solar calendar by three weeks or so?”

Here the Rabbi avoids the question and says: “Hmmm, nuts?! Yes, we celebrate the almond blossoms which appear early, and we eat almonds and other fruits of the land of Israel. Even if (the Rabbi continues) spring has not arrived where we live, we mark the return of spring to the land we consider holy. And don’t forget that golden almond blossoms embellished the menorah in our wilderness sanctuary (Ex. 25:31-40), and almond blossoms budded overnight to confirm Aaron’s priestly authority (Num. 17:8).” (What student can persist against this sea of allusions?)

By the 15th of the month of Shevat, Israel’s winter rains are generally completed, and in ancient times this marked the end of one agricultural year and the beginning of the next. Since farmers were supposed to “tithe” each year’s produce, and to let a tree grow for three years before harvesting its fruit, they needed to know the start of the year: the fifteenth of Shevat was the date.

After the destruction of the Temple and the expulsion of most Jewish people from their ancient land, many countries did not allow Jewish people to own land or farm it. Unable to celebrate as farmers, our longing for our land was heightened. The land, its rituals and its fruits (the “seven species” of Deut. 8:8) accrued mystical significance. And when the Jewish people returned to the land and recovered their own state, our mystical yearnings bore reality, for now we could grow and enjoy the fruits of the land.

Today, many communities celebrate the day with a meal enjoying fruits such as nuts and dates. It’s called a Tu B’Shevat Seder, and it’s a time to consider our connection to and responsibility for the land of Israel and for the planet we share with every living being. (Remember to read Bobbie Lewis’s column about a Tu B’Shevat Seder.)

What about the “Tu” in “Tu Bishvat”? The ninth and sixth letters of the Hebrew alphabet form “Tu” and represent 15. Why not use the tenth and fifth letters? Oh, that’s one of the names of God, so in Hebrew counting 15 is 9+6 and never 10+5.

The Hebrew calendar has its own logic, though some might say that Hebrew dates are—well, nuts.

(If you like this piece, you can learn more about Joe Lewis’s work in producing Jewish guides to prayers and rituals written to include people who don’t speak or read Hebrew.)

Here’s Rabbi Bob Alper …

Bob is the author of our new book: Thanks. I Needed That. He added this Tu B’Shevat story:

To be perfectly honest, the minor Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat never spoke to me nearly as much as other Jewish holidays did.

Until I cut down a tree.

Last summer it was time to take down a huge maple in our yard. I had my old chainsaw sharpened, cleared brush around the tree’s wide base, and, just before pulling the starter cord, enticed our dog into the house. I realized that a dog who doesn’t understand “fetch” and “stay” probably doesn’t know how to respond appropriately and quickly to “timber.”

The tree went down smoothly—landing only 90 degrees from my carefully planned target area. Fortunately, we’re rural enough so there were neither wires nor buildings in the way.

Then commenced the clean-up, a task I thought I could handle fairly quickly. Here’s where I developed an unanticipated new respect for that simple tree. It took days. The lovely branches, for years just part of the beautiful scenery, required hours of chainsawing, dragging, and, at the last, splitting, before the lawn was once again empty, the branches piled behind the small cemetery on our property, and the large pieces split, transported, and added to our woodpile.

I gained a new perspective about why trees should be celebrated and valued in community events such as Tu B’Shevat or its secular parallel, Arbor Day. That maple provided decades of shade and beauty, many years of maple sugar, and now, at the last, fuel for our winter.

And throughout my days of toil, I continually thought of the words carved on a board above the dining hall fireplace at the camp I attended as a kid: “He who chops his own wood, warms himself twice.”

 (This column originally published at ReadTheSpirit, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)


Watch Night / New Year’s Eve: Millions welcome 2014

Confetti fills the air in Times Square, from a bystander's perspective

Times Square in New York is showered with confetti just moments after midnight. Photo by Dave Hunt, courtesy of Flickr

TUESDAY, JANUARY 31: To all of our readers, from ReadTheSpirit, we say: Happy New Year!

As the Gregorian year 2013 draws to a close, millions around the world bid farewell to the past 365 days, welcoming the year 2014 with new hopes and resolutions. Alternatively known as the Western calendar or Christian calendar, this is the most widely accepted civil calendar worldwide. Whether you’ll be ringing in the New Year with your congregation’s Watch Night service or potluck, attending a party, logging in to a virtual celebration or just watching the New York Times Square ball drop from home, take some time to ponder over the old year and embrace the new.


The tradition of Watch Night began with Methodism’s founder John Wesley, who created Covenant Renewal Services in 1740. To this day, the United Methodist Church provides online resources for this holiday.

Additional meaning was added on the night of Dec. 31, 1862, when African American slaves gathered in churches to receive word of the declaration that they were legally free, as the Emancipation Proclamation became law. Many African American churches consider these historic events in their Watchnight services.

Other denominations use this time to “call” their members back to God, giving thanks for the blessings of the year past and praying for protection in the year to come. (The United Church of Christ offers a Watch Night poem.) Some church traditions mark Watch Night or Midnight Mass with services, potlucks, dancing, joyful praise and song. Services typically end just after midnight.

Closeup of glass half filled with champagne, another glass in background

Photo by Anders Adermark, courtesy of Flickr


Decorate for your New Year’s bash with help from Martha Stewart. Find her recipes here.

Running out of time? Rachael Ray offers party shortcuts and decorating tips.

An elegant New Year’s Day brunch is made easy with inspirations from HGTV.

The L.A. Times offers up eight champagne cocktail ideas.

Ryan Seacrest and Jenny McCarthy are lined up to host Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2014, and they’ll be welcoming celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Fall Out Boy, Jennifer Hudson, Enrique Iglesias, Robin Thicke and Blondie. The complete schedule can be found here. Information on watching the event livestream, from your computer or digital device, can be found here.


As social media and virtual devices change the way people communicate, New Year’s Eve 2014 will be no exception: from virtual parties to a New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball app, users can now enjoy the event from the comfort of their own homes.

The New York Times reported on the growing popularity of “virtual” New Year’s parties, for which “attendees” can log in and chat with other partygoers, dance to the same music and even share photos via social media. Supporters cite the virtual parties as a great alternative to parents or others who, for various reasons, cannot go out that night—and, as a bonus, won’t add to the number of drunk drivers on the road that night. Alternatively, the 2014 Times Square Ball app allows users to experience Times Square in all of its six-hour, 20-minute glory, livestreaming the New Year’s Eve event without the filter of a network. (International Business Times has the story.) Users can also interact with attendees at Times Square, or even “talk” with the Times Square Ball, which claims its own Twitter account.

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)