small bytes


A number of traditional and not so common ways to greet the New Year.


As opposed to the U.S. where Christmas decorations go up at Thanksgiving and disappear right after December 25th, Christmas officially begins with the posadas, continues through Epiphany on January 6th and finishes up with Candelaria, February 2nd. This is when the Nacimiento or crèche is put away for another year, decorations are traditionally removed and whoever found the tiny doll representing El Niño Jesús in the Rosca or bread for Three Kings throws a party.

The Nativity scene is set up in home ahead of the 25th but the Christ Child is only added on Christmas Eve. Many times those going to midnight mass bring the figurine to be blessed before setting him down with the rest in the Nativity scene. Many of the Nacimientos are labors of love that have taken years to create. Ours is, however, quite simple.

New Years is simply one more celebration to add to this festive time. It is said by some that Mexico has the longest bridge in the world. It's called La Puente Guadalupe Reyes which results in a great play on words since puente refers to the Mexican custom of making a 'bridge' between a holiday and a week-end to create a bit more time for something other than work.

The only equivalent found in the U.S. is the Friday between Thanksgiving and the ensuing Saturday/Sunday, which gives some folk a four-day holiday rather than just the one-day vacation.

Now Guadalupe in the bridge name refers to the Virgin de Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. Her feast day falls on December 12. The Reyes in the second part of the name refers to Los Tres Reyes or Epiphany so one can see how the Puente Guadalupe Reyes that forms a bridge from one month to the next year could be considered the longest in the world.
photo by Judy Cameron at
card by Charito Calvachi Wakefield at

Certainly all Mexicans do not celebrate this month in such exuberant fashion but this is a country that negates Shakespeare's allegation that 'If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work.'

New Years is about three-quarters of the way toward the end. And quite a celebration it is. The Italian saying, 'Natale con i tuoi e Capodanno con chi vuoi,' (Christmas with the family and New Year's Eve with whomever you like holds true in Mexico as well.

It is another holiday filled with tradition.

If you are looking for passion in 2004, you should have donned a pair of new red panties to see in the New Year. That is if you are female. Who knows what the result would be for a male?

Some maintain that the panties should be worn inside out until midnight when they are slipped off and reversed. Others maintain that all this custom does is give you quite a collection of red underwear. The fact that there is a 'collection' attests to the staying power of the tradition.

Now if a woman is interested in prosperity and money, yellow panties are in order. Of course, there are other accounts that attribute wearing yellow with being the harbinger of love and say that read will assure only friendship and not passion of love.

Nowhere, however, in this scurry to purchase colored underwear for the New Year have I seen the enterprising entrepreneur who has manufactured a two-tone number that would take into account both multiple wishes and hedge ones bets regarding conflicting color interpretations.

Another report negates both yellow and red and maintains that wearing rose-colored underwear on New Year's Eve is necessary if a woman wants to find True & Abiding Love. The fact that the chances of finding rose-colored underwear are on a par with the glue factory nag winning the Triple Crown makes a rather sad commentary on these modern times.

A more unisex approach to color use is lighting a colored candle to correspond to ones wish for the New Year. Again, there are opposing opinions as to the significance of the various colors as well as variance on how many candles to light. Suggested numbers range from one to twelve. To be on the safe, side, I light a candle in every color I can find. Besides I simply like a lot of color.

This means that another custom is right up my alley. The idea is to start the New Year with a bunch of flowers in every conceivable hue available. A dozen Nardos are also added so that their perfume can assure you of sweet things to come in each of the ensuing months.

The nardos are to the left of the tree and their perfume will grow stronger as they open. It is rather nice to have a culturally acceptable rationale for keeping the decorations around for much longer than stateside. Once they're finally put away, the house looks rather bare.

The rationale for all those colored flowers could well be to guarantee variety in the upcoming year although anything as gay as a huge bunch of multi-colored flowers really needs no rationalization at all.

Getting back to the candles, they should be arranged on a white plate and surrounded by small handfuls of lentils, beans, rice, corn and flour (with my Italian background, I substitute semolina for the flour and polenta for the corn). This is to insure an abundance of staple foods in the next year. A piece of stick cinnamon is added to spice up the upcoming prospects.

A glass of water is another accessory. I hedge my bets adding a glass of wine and a few coffee beans. Crystals and incense and some coins finish off the collection. The coins are designed to augment ones chances for a prosperous year. I like to put out a selection of coins I've saved from our various travels to make sure we continue our wandering ways in the upcoming year as opposed to increasing our bank account.

A more traditional custom to insure a traveling year is to take out ones luggage and circle the house or the block with the empty suitcases.

The candles are lit, left to burn all night and when they extinguish themselves in a blob of melted wax, you are supposed to pry the resulting mess of the plate and bury it although it's highly dubious that any of the lentils, corn or beans will sprout.

This year after carefully selecting a dozen separate candles, I made my precarious way to the front of the shop. There I saw a pottery tray filled with twelve different candles each set in a glass holder, all of which was offered for sale for less than the same size individual candles I was juggling. In Mexico, I have learned not to question, simply to accept. So I bought the tray. The candles burned all night, using up all the wax, leaving no gooey mess and twelve reusable glass holders Go figure!

There are in fact so many traditions for the bewitching hour between old and new year that if one faithfully attended to them all, one could well miss the celebration entirely. I've seen close to fifty different customs reported.

One I have yet to try is throwing a bucket of water out the window, in some versions dousing a neighbor.

At midnight you should open the door and ceremoniously sweep out the old. Then some coins are thrown on the ground and brushed inside the house to insure prosperity in the upcoming months.

An apple and a lime are placed at each entrance to the house and left until they start to implode; at which time they are buried. I find the sight of the apple and lime by each door rather amusing. Such mirth is not shared by Pablo, the other two-footed resident in the house so I generally end up throwing apple and lime out before the appointed time, perhaps ensuring the displeasure of whatever entity the placement of the fruit was designed to appease.

A custom in a number of countries and one of my favorites is the eating of a grape at the sound of each chime as the New Year is rung in. Some say a wish should accompany each grape as it is popped in the mouth. There are others who maintain that this feat should be accomplished while standing on your left foot while holding a glass of bubbly in your right hand, which you drink from once all the grapes are eaten and you set your right foot down, beginning the year so to speak, on the right foot.

This all requires a great deal more coordination than I am capable of, with of without bubbly. I'm more inclined to create rather a spectacle with a mouth full of grapes, trying to cram the required twelve in without convulsing in laughter and thereby spewing out partially chewed grapes on one and all.

It helps if you opt for seedless varieties.

The grape eating is often followed by the guests at a party joining hands and making a circle where each person in turn shares his or her wish for the next year or makes an announcement or recounts something he or she is particularly grateful for. These pronouncements can run the gamut from the profound to the profane.

A young fellow at one party found a rather clever way to predict a rosy year for everyone when he said, 'My wish for each of you is that the very best moment you had during this last year will only manage to be the worst experience of the next twelve months.'

A peculiar habit of Mexicans is to celebrate the New Year by firing off a volley of shot into the air from any available firearm. The government has passed a law prohibiting this practice since what goes up, invariable comes down. However, each year there still are incidents of celebrants killed or injured by falling bullets, showing the practice has been curtailed but certainly not eliminated.

More common nowadays is the worldwide tradition of fireworks and rockets. The display in the Zócolo of Mexico City gives Times Square quite a run for its money but shows of lesser magnitude are rampant throughout the country. They range from backyard pyrotechnics to the shows put on by various municipal governments spending the last monies in the coffers before the new government takes over.

It's a wonder that after celebrating 364 feast and saint days and special fiestas there are any rockets left to announce the New Year but rockets there are in abundance, maintaining a cacophony of sound until the wee hours. They are especially important on this the last day of the old year because the noise of the rockets scares off the evil spirits and provides a safe entrance in the New Year.

The more religious in the population see in the New Year with a Misa de Gallo or Midnight Mass followed by a party at home.

No matter what way one chooses to celebrate, New Year's Eve is AN EVENT that lasts practically until dawn assuring the New Year's Day is one of the quietest of the ensuing 364. Even the dogs sleep in. No newspapers are published and there are no Bowl Games on the tube. Since the Christmas holidays represent a break between the two soccer seasons, fútbol is also singularly lacking.

The Basilica seen by daylight. Just one of any number of local churches where one can choose to go to mass on January 1 to rejoice or repent as the case may be.


Article Archives

Letter Box