Today we bring you the last in our recent series, in which our panel of expert travel bloggers have been looking at the theme of ‘staying together’. After looking at Europe’s Christmas markets a couple of weeks ago we are finishing by looking at the year’s last big celebration, New Year’s Eve. So far we have stuck close to home and looked at a lot of European destinations, but Agness Walewinder takes a look at how the New Year is greeted across the world as well as giving us a real insight into the festivities in her native Poland.
On New Year’s Eve, every country comes alive with celebrations, fireworks and parties. Although the goal of the night is the same – to have as much fun as possible, say goodbye to the old year and greet the new one – every country celebrates it in a different way. In Mexico, for example, locals eat a grape with each of the twelve chimes of a clock’s bell at midnight. In Germany, people drop molten lead into cold water to tell the future from the shape it makes, whereas in the Netherlands Dutch people burn Christmas Trees in street bonfires, and let fireworks ring in the New Year!
Chinese New Year
Based on my experience, Asia is the continent on which New Year’s Eve seems to be celebrated in the most spectacular and extraordinary way. I was lucky enough to spend this special night in Huayuan, Hunan province, China two years ago. I actually celebrated two New Year’s Eves there – the worldwide and Chinese one as Chinese New Year is set by a lunar calendar and comes on a different day. Both times, there was no alcohol or food limit and I could hear and see fireworks almost everywhere all day long. The food served on Chinese New Year’s Eve did not differ much from everyday food served in China though. There were some traditional Chinese dumplings called baozi and jiaozi filled with mince and veggies on the table, fried rice with pork and chicken, chicken feet, famous Beijing duck and you tiao (deep-fried bread sticks). All locals were wearing red clothes (for good luck), we watched a dragon show on TV which took place in Beijing, and we gave red envelopes with money to each other. On that day, locals did nothing apart from eating, drinking Baijiu (Chinese spirit), playing a very popular game here called Mah Jong. Kids were playing with fireworks and they were going from house to house to say “Happy New Year!” to their families and neighbours. The most important thing for the Chinese was to gather all family members together and spend as much time as possible. No matter how long it took them to travel from their living places to their family home (some travelled for more than 46 hours by train), everyone had to show up!
No place like home: New Year’s Eve in Poland
Have you ever heard the saying “There is no place like home”? It’s true! I spent the best New Year’s Eve in my home country – Poland. As one of the most historical countries in Europe, there are many traditions and customs associated with the New Year’s Eve I love. One of the oldest Polish sayings is that you should get rid of the old problems so you can start the new year with a “white piece of paper” (you can have a fresh start). If we want to be free of unpleasant memories, you should write down everything that bothers you on red paper and let it burn. The New Year’s flame will destroy bad memories once and for all. Moreover, all debts and loans should be paid before the New Year’s Eve, so nobody suffers from any financial problems in the upcoming year.
New Year’s Eve food and parties
New Year’s Eve in Poland is all about the food. Although traditional Polish cuisine is really quite calorific, nobody can resist its temptation. You can spot various kinds of meat (beef, chicken, pork), freshly baked bread and delicious sausages on a traditional New Year’s Eve table. Moreover, you can treat yourself with a plate of pierogi (Polish dumplings which are made of a thinly rolled-out dough with a variety of fillings such as sauerkraut and mushrooms or seasonal fruits), a bowl of rosol (broth/ chicken soup served with homemade noodles, onion, small leek, onion, green celery, parsley, cabbage, salt and pepper) or some golabki (made of minced pork with some rice, onion, mushrooms, wrapped in white cabbage leaves). It is common that several dishes are simply leftovers after Christmas, especially desserts.
Before the New Year’s Eve party starts, everyone sits down at the table, praying together and then having a feast. Everyone talks to each other: mothers are catching up with their children, fathers are chatting with their grandparents and friends gossip. It is a very happy moment for everyone, full of laughter and love. There is also an old tradition of wishing each other all the best for the New Year. They are plenty of ways to say it – by phone, in person, by sending a text message or a card. On this day, it is usual to receive a phone call around midnight from friends and family.
New Year’s Eve is a good excuse for Poles to go overboard with some vodka shots, although champagne must be opened when the clock strikes. The truth is that most Polish girls and women drink very little and they very rarely get drunk, but on New Year’s Eve everyone goes crazy. People cheer with each other while singing Polish songs and eating pickles in the meantime. It is also very common for everyone to get outside, fire up some fireworks and, of course, count down the last 10 seconds together! Why not try it yourself, and find a New Year’s Eve holiday rental in Poland?
Celebrate in Cambodia
While I was celebrating New Year’s Eve in Poland, my long-term travel companion – Cez – was in Cambodia. In Siem Reap city, located next to famous Angkor Wat, there are probably more tourists than locals around the last days of December. He therefore waved goodbye to 2012 with a bunch of travellers and a few of his local friends. It is worth noting that Khmer people don’t obsess with the 31st of December; they care much more about the Lunar New Year. Nevertheless, they are happy to go with the flow and join foreigners cheering on the Pub Street in Siem Reap. This street is a centre of the city and has loud parties every day, but nothing compares to the New Year’s Eve party! The crowd is happy, mostly drunk and above all – huge. Spectators gather on all restaurant floors above and splash people below with beer. Some expats, knowing this, come prepared with umbrellas. The sight of the whole street dancing is unparalleled to anything else, and it’s worth going to Cambodia just to join the crowd around midnight. A word of warning though: book your accommodation in advance. This is the only time of the year when you can expect Siem Reap to run out of sleeping spaces.
As you can see, New Year’s Eve is all about family and friends getting together and having an excellent time. There is always a lot of food and fun, no matter where you celebrate.
What’s New Year’s Eve like in your country?
Agness Walewinder is a Polish budget traveller, who has been exploring Asia since 2011. She left her comfort zone after her graduation and decided to start her full-time nomadic life. She is currently staying in China with her best friend where she is teaching English to kindergarten students and travelling a lot on her days off work. Agness is well known for her $25 per day travels, and is a passionate photographer, blogger and life enthusiast. You can follow Agness on her blog eTramping.
After seven very different posts, we have reached the end of our latest series where we have been looking at the theme of ‘staying together‘. Our panel of expert travel bloggers have taken us across Europe from the cottages of the English countryside to the big lights of Europe’s capital cities. I hope we have given you some inspiration for when you are planning your next holiday with those you love, and staying together.