Each new year E.F.’s family (usually the youngest members) eats 12 grapes under a table at midnight for good luck in the new year. During this time the women wear red underwear to find love in the next year. In addition the whole family would walk around their home with luggage to manifest traveling in upcoming year.
E.F. was introduced to her family’s Columbian New Years customs growing up. She told me, “ I understand why we do our New Year’s tradition, to bring luck or romance or travel into our lives during the new year. It’s like manifestation. But I’m not really sure why we eat 12 grapes under a table, that’s always confused me”.
I think the the 12 grapes represent either the 12 months of the year or the 12 disciples of Christ, since the tradition has Catholic Spanish roots. The grapes are eaten possibly because they are connected to wine and celebration, signifying good luck. Eating the 12 grapes under a table might be to focus on positive intentions when eating, getting in the right headspace. In my friend’s second tradition I can easily understand why the women specifically wear red underwear to attract love. Women’s colors are white, red, and black, and the color red symbolizes the romantic (reproductive) stage in a woman’s life. Red underwear especially emphasizes romance in a woman’s life. Finally my friend’s third new years custom imitates the action of traveling by pulling out the suitcases and walking around, simulating being on vacation. These are all examples of homeopathic magic, by having non physical ideas being represented by physical objects in order to imitate a desired outcome in the new year.
“Korea is pretty strict about how you treat your elders. One example I remember is on new years, lunar not Jan 1st, you’re supposed to bow down and say 새해 복 많이 받으세요 (saehae bok mani badeuseyo) which roughly translates to, I wish you receive lots of good luck. Its a full bow, you get on your knees, and there’s a specific hand you put on top of the other depending on your gender. If you do this, you get money in return, so there’s no reason not to. It basically allows the elders to pay for good luck and respect, and the kids get money”
My informant and I have participated in this act. We both do it every year, even if we have to facetime our grandparents. The saying can also be sort of like a ‘happy new year’ in that you can say it to your taxi driver without the whole bow. It became a tradition since it solidifies the hierarchy in the family.
This ritual often takes less than 10 minutes. In the past, my sister, dad, and I would do it during dinner, since with the time shift, it would be our grandparents breakfast. Like other rituals, its designed to control some part of the elder’s life, in this case their luck. There is a lot controlled during the ceremony also, such as how you bow and what your hands should be doing.
Text: In our family, we usually eat seaweed miso soup on New Year’s Day. I remember my mom would wake up early before everyone and would make us breakfast, no matter how tired we were from the night before. Whatever food she would make us, seaweed miso soup would always be a staple part of our breakfast on New Year’s Day. She used to tell us that drinking the soup on the first day of the year would ensure good health for all of us throughout the year and thus, would lead to prosperity. That is a recurring theme in Japanese culture, you know..actually int any Asian cultures….to link prosperity to health. Anyway, now that I am away from home, I try to keep these traditions closer to me than ever before. Last New Years, I was not able to go back home but I made sure to make the miso soup for myself. Reminded me of home.
Context: CL is a college student studying journalism. Originally from Japan, she moved to the United States with her family when she was ten years old. She tells me that even though they don’t live in Japan anymore, her family tries their hardest to not forget their culture roots. CL told me the above piece of information in a conversation about New Year traditions that we observe at our homes.
Analysis: The above is an example of a folk food that is used to bridge cultural gaps and to feel closer to a family’s cultural roots. Despite leaving the country they were born, through certain cultural motifs such as food, it can be observed that people can feel closer to their cultures and communities. It is not the miso soup that holds meaning, but the act of consuming it on a New Years day that bears cultural significance. Thus, this shows that meaning is usually generated when an individual usually links an act to a widespread significant event (here, New Years Day) and integrates it into society.
Background: The informant was from a southern province in China called Guangdong, or Canton. He heard the saying from relatives that came from the same region. This tradition is a four-character word that expresses the best wish, which is the hope people will get rich. It has variations such as adding another four characters that meant “give the red pocket,” which involves the tradition of the Chinese New Year.
Context: Every Chinese New Year, people would visit relatives and hang out with families. When my informant’s families greet each other, they say, “hope you get rich” instead of “happy new year.”
Main Piece: 恭喜发财 translation: hope you get rich
Analysis: The Chinese New Year is the most important time of the year, and people express their best wishes to their families. The fact that Cantonese greets each other with “hope you get rich” reflects their values about wealth. Canton has long been a place where trading is happening. Many people have a family business or participate in businesses. Thus, “hope you get rich” is an appropriate wish for businessmen, which is why it is prevalent in Canton.
Interspersed within their explanation of the ritual are frequent giggles as the informant looked back on performing this ritual.
“Something that happens on the night of New Year’s Eve– I guess it happens right at countdown. My family does this for years. My mom still does this. Right when it strikes midnight, we jump as high as we can several times until the first minute is done, so you can get taller in the New Year.”
RELATIONSHIP – “This is just really funny because my mom is 4’9″. I grew up doing it. I don’t know if it’s just a Filipino tradition… but it’s something that my family has been doing. I think it was something more prominent as I became a teenager because my mom is all about the holidays, so she says ‘Ah, just keep jumping! Show your excitement! Ah, the New Year!’ Of course, I don’t believe in it because I’ve been 5’1″ for several years.”
WHERE THEY HEARD IT – “My mom. I don’t remember the first time it happened. I think it was when I was really young, like when I was in Kindergarten. It was around when I was finally old enough to stay awake around midnight. I knew it was really early on in my elementary school years. I would jump, but my eye level wouldn’t go up that high.”
INTERPRETATION – “It’s just a silly little thing to do with your family to get enjoyment out of the celebration. It’s one of those traditions my mom does just to like, bring the family together. She grew up with nine other siblings so I’m sure a lot of family traditions happened a lot in her childhood, and she kind of wanted to transfer that to us– to her kids.”
This jumping ritual seems to stem off the belief that, with the New Year, comes hope for change. Tall height is seen as an attractive trait to have in many places, and it may be something that people wish for themselves to happen in the future. Especially in the case of younger children when it’s uncertain what height they’ll grow into yet, it feels like a number that’s malleable and subject to change, so it’s natural that people try to take matters into their own hands in an attempt to reach the height that they wish for themselves in the future. Eventually, the belief in it dies down as the participants grow older, but at that point it’s just a fun activity to do with the family and people around you on New Year’s Eve.