New Year’s Rituals

My informant has a diverse familial background. Her maternal side of the family has been living in Pennsylvania for about 300 years, and is deeply entrenched in the Pennsylvania Dutch folkloric traditions. Her paternal family has come to America fairly recently – her grandparents emigrated from Italy shortly before her father was born.


Her family has a variety of New Year’s Eve traditions that they practice.


The first is that on New Year’s, my informant’s father gives each family member a silver coin. He used to give them an actual silver coin, but in recent years has been distributing dimes wrapped in foil. They then keep these silver (or silver wrapped) coins in their wallet for the rest of the year. Doing so ensures prosperity for the coming year. Each year, my informant gets rid of the old coin, and receives a new one. She isn’t sure where this tradition came from, but thinks it came from her Italian grandparents who have passed away. A  Google search showed that this tradition is actually common in a lot of cultures. Even though she doesn’t know the origins of this tradition, she continues to believe in and practice it, which is a testament to the power of folklore and superstitions.


The second New Year’s tradition that my informant practices is that precisely at midnight, she opens the back door to let the old year out, and then opens the front door to let the new year in. She has seen this ritual being practiced elsewhere in the community, such as at her friends’ houses when she goes to celebrate New Year’s with them.


New Year’s is a liminal period, especially at midnight. Because it is a liminal time, there are many rituals associated with New Year’s. Oftentimes, there is a belief that your behavior on New Year’s will carry into the next year, such as in the case of the silver dime. It is a time of moving on, and of leaving behind the past, as my informant’s family does by ritualistically ushering out the past before welcoming in the present.