A Twist on New Year's Traditions
Posted by Mary-Frances Walsh
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Europe, Asia, Africa, South America
New Year’s traditions may vary from culture to culture, but celebrating in the spirit of renewal holds universal appeal. Here’s how the holiday is observed in some of our guests’ favorite cities:
Gezillig, meaning cozy and friendly, is the atmosphere Amsterdammers aim for at home on a typically damp, chilly New Year’s Eve. Nonetheless, throngs of people gather in the compact city center, where a Festival of Lights illuminates walking routes along the historic canals. Live entertainment warms the atmosphere in Museumplein, the grassy square in front of the Rijksmuseum, and open-air ice skating rinks invite fun lovers of all ages in small city squares. Fireworks light up the Amstel River, robust private firecrackers fill the sound waves, and beloved oliebollen stands hawk their seasonal treats of hot cider and sweet, fried dough.
While the city loves to party, New Years finds most locals at home quietly observing with family. For many it’s a time to head out to Argentina’s seaside beach towns for a retreat. For those that do venture out in the city, there are fireworks displays over the docks and bridges of the upscale Puerto Madero district. Many take in the show from the park surrounding the city’s Planetarium or looking out from the balconies of Palacio Barolo, a 1920s skyscraper with a design based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. In true Argentinian style, beef is on the menu along with a rich Malbec wine.
Rooted in slave history, the Kaapse Klopse (Cape Carnival) refers to the massive New Year’s parades of “minstrels” and “Malay choirs,” formed by neighborhood troupes on the edges of the city. Banjos, guitars, mandolins and ghoema drums accompany choirs celebrating with music, from Old Dutch folk songs to African slave songs and American pop. Partly pure spectacle – with bold, colorful costumes, painted faces, umbrellas and hats – this January 2nd event in downtown Cape Town dates back to 1834 and a celebration of Emancipation Day when the practice of slavery was abolished in South Africa.
Cocktail dresses, suits and ties, free-flowing drinks, champagne, a buffet of smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches) and kranse kage (almond cake) are typical fare at private New Year’s celebrations around the city. Glasses are lifted in a skål toast to the Queen’s annual New Year’s speech, fireworks light up the skies over the city’s lakes and bridges, and millions brave the biting cold to mark the final hour at Rådhuspadsen (Town Hall Square). At home or on the square, Danes link hands at midnight; standing on any elevated surface available, they jump into January in unison – for good luck!
From the early 18th century, winters were a time of grand entertainment in St. Petersburg, often featuring opulent masquerade balls and sparkling sleigh rides. These were brought to a halt by the Revolution of 1917, but today glamor is being ushered back in to society life. Catherine’s Summer Palace will be aglow at this New Year’s Czar’s Ball in nearby Pushkin. Guests will be welcomed to the Throne Room by a brass band and elegantly uniformed hussars, ice sculptures and French champagne. 'Entertainment includes live music from opera to ballet, jazz, a children’s choir, folkloric dancing, and ballroom dancing at midnight. All at no expense spared – reminiscent of a Tolstoy novel.
Tokyo folds to a quiet close as thousands leave the metropolis, observing sato-gaeri, the New Year’s tradition of returning to one’s childhood home. Although this once entailed a massive crush of humanity, travel from Tokyo today is a well-oiled phenomenon by plane, bullet train and car. Hatsumode refers to the tradition of paying a visit to a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple; bells ring in the New Year for masses of visitors and stands offer food and lucky charms for purchase. Traditionalists begin New Year’s morning with a toast of spicy Toso sake, steeped in herbs, then dine from stacked boxes of artfully arranged preserved foods, like sweet chestnut, herring roe and kelp rolls.
However and wherever you celebrate, all of us at Tauck wish you a Happy New Year!