Some of us may not know at times if “we’re coming or going”, but not so with our Western calendar, it’s always clear what day, month and year it is. I say “our” because of course there are other cultures and civilizations that have their own calendars. “End of an error”, era and drama; now we’re all (or almost all) waiting for Obama.
Speaking of traditions and beginnings, let me give you a taste of how New Year was celebrated during my boyhood in the Lowlands, before WWII in the 1930’s. First, supervised by our school teachers, we had to design our own “Best Wishes” card for our parents.
Then, we had to compose our own New Year’s message, with some kind of resolution that we would try to behave, whatever that may be. (Just like today when we hear grown-ups making resolutions but rarely live up to them.)
Back to the special card, the idea was on January 1, we children would have to stand in front of our parents and read out loud our promises we wrote in our self-made “Hallmark” cards. How is that for overcoming stage fright or public speaking phobia? All the children, from the age they could read and write, had to go through this ordeal.
Now, the evening before (New Year’s Eve), without fail each year, as many members of the whole family that could be corralled together would come to our home. Aunts, uncles, grannies, grandpas, nieces, cousins - you get the idea. This would be on a rotating basis, for example one year we’d all go to an uncle’s home, then the next year to our grandparents, etc. The youngsters played games on their own, and so too the elders, usually cards.
The masterpiece by Jan Steen comes to mind which depicts a typical hectic household during this festive time, sometimes a bit chaotic. So even today in the Lowlands if someone’s household is in disorder, we call it “the household of Jan Steen”.
Even though some of the adults may have been teetotallers, on this occasion two traditional beverages were present: Advocaat (an egg-yolk and alcohol concoction), and a drink with fermented raisins.
The raisins had been put into jars months ahead, with alcohol and honey. Both drinks were consumed with a teaspoon! And, let us not forget, hot cocoa! And coffee.
Then there were the Oliebollen. These are ping-pong ball (or sometimes tennis ball) size dough deep-fried in hot oil. Before serving they are coated with sugar powder. They taste like a doughnut. Appelflappen were flatter than the Oliebollen, with apple inside.
During the evening the fragrances from these goodies and beverages wandered through the house and into our nostrils, awakening a constant “We want another one” sort of thing. Long before twelve o’clock we young children were supposed to be in bed, but at the stroke of Midnight (on Grandfather’s clock), the Happy Wishes came out, the embracing, kisses, and a type of “Auld Lang Syne” singing.
How do I know all this? Because I peeked, that’s how.
Have a smooth slide into 2009, and easy on the whatever.