Find out why we are so keen to preserve the rituals and symbols associated with the New Year
Chinese astrology, 2012 is the Year of the Dragon
by Veronica Mambrino
Fireworks at Copacabana, lentils for supper, champagne, flowers in the sea, jumping on the right foot, eating lentils, climbing stairs, turning on the lights, turning up the sound, yelling loudly "happy new year!" There are many rituals to New Year's Eve. But do we repeat these gestures all year? What's more, do they actually serve some purpose?
Scholars believe that yes, the rituals are important and have their function. They carry the symbolic power of opening and closing cycles, and that power is enormous. "As each cycle ends, people feel the need to take stock of strengths and weaknesses," says psychologist Jacqueline Meireles.
And that goes for both crises, problems and difficulties of the cycle that ends and for the projects and dreams that were stagnant and need to be updated for the new time that is beginning.
But does everyone need to take stock at the same time, on an agreed date?
"Because of the symbolic force. The whole world is mobilized on this basis," says the psychologist. This gigantic "campaign for good intentions" that is created at these moments can be a nice boost to encourage the examination of conscience and embrace the coming year.
It is clear that a cycle can begin on an anniversary date or be caused by a change of employment, for example, or any other time that is meaningful to the person. "Many moments in life call for changes. However, during the close of these cycles the call has special weight, you are driven by the momentum," affirms Jacqueline.
The passage of time and the cycles of nature served even our earliest ancestors. And the rites of passage have always served to punctuate this repetitive rhythm that men were observing everything around them in its turn.
"The rites of passage answer basic needs," said Denise Ramos, professor at the Catholic University of Sao Paulo and Jungian analyst.
"Rituals generate well-being. Marking time has existed since the dawn of humanity because it gives men a sense of control over their own destiny," she affirms.
The analyst also adds another fundamental ingredient to the psychological well-being of human beings: the need for hope.
"The new year brings with it the possibility of reorganizing one's life, fixing mistakes, doing things differently, this promise of a 'new beginning' is crucial to well-being and mental health."
Rituals serve to express precisely this attempt to control destiny and give body and voice to hope.
"It is not enough to just say that just one year is finished and another begins, it is necessary to make note of it and give concrete form to this conviction. In general, the rituals associated with water are very strong," she says.
An example are the offerings to Lemanja that populate the Brazilian coast on the night of the New Year. "They are made by people of all faiths, because the symbolism of water is tied to renewal, to the Great Mother, so to love and happiness."
In French, the word 'réveillon' (New Year) refers to wakefulness, the act of being awake.
"If you are going to receive the new, you have to be awake to receive it when it arrives. You must be awake to 'get rid of ' the old year," explains Denise. "It's a chance to make a wish..." And to help ward off evil and attract the good, fireworks!
"The noise traditionally drives away evil spirits and the fireworks coloring the sky are the idea of communication with the gods. The candles lit in the house also keep that sense of connection with the transcendental, and are healthy traditional vehicles of spiritual elevation."
What you eat is also extremely important: the foods that attract good luck in the new year represent abundance and prosperity.
"The symbolic elements that always appear form associations in our minds. Not to eat poultry that scrabbles backwards is an analogy that refers to the idea of not regressing in life. Like lentils, green refers to coins, money," says the teacher. Another classic is the pomegranate, for centuries associated with fertility and prosperity, probably because of the hundreds of seeds that make up the pulp of the crimson fruit.
And the numbers? Why 'seven waves', seven seeds of pomegranates in the wallet, seven grapes?
The number 7 is traditionally associated with the completion of the end of a process. In the Bible, the significance of the number is so emphasized that some researchers believe that it ends up being a mark of the finish of divine work. Hence its identification with perfection is a leap.
In addition, Denise explains, the number 7 is composed of the numbers 3 and 4 which are also associated with good luck, numerals that represent patterns of nature, or express phenomena related to time and the situation of humans in the universe, like the four seasons and four wind directions, for example.
"The number three represents the triangle and is considered a symbol of spirituality, the Holy Trinity, for example, is composed of three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The number 4 is the number of solidity, totality, all anchored in Nature: there are the four sides in the square, the four elements of matter, 4 is the sum of the number of totality: 7 ."
That is, with faith one can jump the seven waves of the sea, because the number is magical.
Basically, the important thing is the desire to attract good wishes for the coming year. "The different adaptations are numerous, but all cultures celebrate this passage from one year to another, from one cycle to another and all invent their own ways to wish everyone a good new year," says Denise.
Translated from the Portuguese version by: