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Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve Traditions


How do you celebrate New Year's Eve in your culture?


Here are some "traditional" ways that Americans celebrate the New Year.

We use the phrase "Ring out the old, ring in the new" to mean that we say "goodbye" to one year and "hello" to another. Often, we actually ring bells (or make other noise--see below) to do this. As part of this tradition, we have an image of the passing year as an old man, and the New Year as a baby. (see the picture above)

We usually ring out the old year and ring in the new with our friends. In America, Christmas Eve is spent with family, and New Year's Eve with friends. We usually have some food and drinks. No special foods, as in some cultures, but just the usual party snacks: chips and dips, etc. But we do usually toast the New Year with champagne.

People at home often watch TV, especially as midnight approaches. One show that has been on the air since 1972 is "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve." The program shows people at parties all over the country, "from coast to coast," waiting for the countdown to midnight to begin. There are bands performing at the parties, and interviews in which the partygoers are asked about their resolutions.

A countdown is a common feature of many parties. The most famous countdown in America, from Times Square in New York City, is seen on many TV shows. "Counting down" means starting at 10 seconds before midnight; counting backwards from 10; and when 0 is reached, shouting "HAPPY NEW YEAR!" while hugging and even kissing. Also, some people like to make a lot of noise at midnight, blowing horns, lighting firecrackers, and so on.

By the way, notice that "countdown" as a noun is one word; when used as a verb, it's two: "We turn on the TV and count down with some show."

Most people sing along with the song "Auld Lang Syne." This may have been a traditional song when it was written down by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796), or it may have been composed by Burns himself. After its publication, it became popular to sing on New Year's Eve. When Scots people migrated to America, they brought the tradition with them.

Here is the first verse and the chorus:
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
"And never brought to mind?
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
"And days of auld lang syne?

"For auld lang syne, my dear,
"For auld lang syne!
"We'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne."
The expression "Auld lang syne" means literally "old long since," and is understood as something like "the good old days." So the song says, let's not forget the past, but raise a toast to it. There were five verses to the song as it was published by Burns; few Americans know them all.

Finally, a word about "New Year's Resolutions": Many people see the new year as a chance to begin again, so they resolve to do something different. They might want to stop smoking, exercise more, save money, or lose weight. Whatever the resolution may be, it's sad to say that most of them are broken before January is over!


Match the following terms to the ideas below:

1. a famous countdown
2. an old man and a baby
3. Auld Lang Syne
4. champagne
5. resolutions
6. Ring out the old, ring in the new

a. the good old days
b. image of the passing year and the new one
c. Times Square
d. goodbye and hello
e. promises, often broken
f. a toast for the New Year


1. Which of these traditions are similar to ones in your country? Which are different?
2. What do you do in your country that is not mentioned here?
3. Is there any tradition here that you've never done before, but would like to try?


1. c; 2. b; 3. a; 4. f; 5. e; 6. d

This lesson is ©2011 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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