As I listened to the horns blare and the gunshots pop (which our local police force adamantly discourages) at midnight on New Year’s Eve, I wondered why we often refer to this annual celebration as the “ringing in of the new year”.  I don’t recall hearing any bells ringing last night.  Apparently, the saying refers to an old custom, particularly in England, where the church bells would ring at midnight as a means of ringing out the old year, celebrating its passing, and to ring in the new year joyfully.  This ringing of the bells was immortalized by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his poem “Ring Out, Wild Bells”.

All around the world, people celebrated the ringing in of the new year, 2012, in various ways last night.  Early in the day, I watched the broadcast from Sydney, Australia as the fireworks lit up the night sky.  Here in the United States the main focus every year is on Times Square in New York City where some one million people crowd to watch the famous ball drop to signify the official start of the new year.  Even here is Metropolitan Detroit, a new custom started last year with the dropping of the big “D”, a symbol identified closely with Detroit (especially the town’s major league baseball team, the Tigers). 

For those up to celebrating, there are big parties with bands, noise makers, balloons, and champagne or maybe just a quiet night with close family and friends.  The night usually includes special foods, drinks and treats depending on where you live to help bring in that new year.  One last splurge before we make those new year resolutions, which usually includes a vow to lose weight by exercising more and eating healthier.  My Dutch ancestors also had a special tradition for welcoming in the new year.  On New Year’s Eve,  a special treat, Oliebollen, was made.  Despite efforts to limit the highly fattening sweets in the Dutch diet, this pastry is still popular among the Dutch even today.

Oliebollen (which means oil balls) is often referred to as Dutch Donuts.  Historians generally credit the Dutch settlers in the Hudson Valley region with the introduction of the first known doughnut recipes in the United States.  In fact, in the Hudson Valley in New York State, a doughnut is sometimes called an “olicook”, derived from the Dutch word oliekoeke (oil cake). A traditional oliebol is made with raisins and currants, and sometimes includes chopped apples.  The dough is then dropped by spoonsful into hot oil where it is fried until golden brown, then rolled in powdered sugar while still warm.  They are believed to symbolize a sweet and everlasting life. 

So what ever your traditions may be for celebrating the passing of the old year and the hopes for a new year, may they bring you joy, hope, good health and prosperity for 2012.

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! (Happy New Year!)

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