Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happy New Year - "Whoopie!"

I have mixed feeling about New Years celebrations. I like the idea of taking stock of the year past, our accomplishments, challenges and friends, the good times and the bad, sharing with others. I like the idea of taking time to especially remember friends past, living and dead, with a special fondness. And I think its great to just have a special time in the year to enjoy the company of other folks you enjoy being with.

Calvin and Hobbs

For some folks, it is a time that they become especially aware of the passing of time, or a time of anxiety about what the future will bring. It is traditionally a time when a lot of people just plain drink too much- and pretend to have a really good time. That’s the tradition. I suppose it blots out anxiety and uncertainty... But that seems out of whack to me. What I enjoy most is getting together with a few friends and having a nice evening – perhaps a good meal and a glass or two of good wine… A time to enjoy being together...

I never before understood the words in Old Lang Syne. Here is a translation into modern English – It carries a very nice sentiment;

OLD LANG SYNE ( Translation: “old long since” or “for the sake of old times”)

"Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind ? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne ? -

CHORUS: For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne. And surely you’ll buy your pint cup ! and surely I’ll buy mine ! And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Old Lang Syne - 19th century


We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine ; But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine ; But seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend ! And give us a hand o’ thine ! And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne."

For the full lyrics go here:

Some cultures believe that what you do on the first day of the New Year will set your agenda for the year ahead… “So be happy - do what you enjoy most - be with the people that you love…”

I have a friend, who for many years hosted a New Years morning hike from his home to the top of a high ridge overlooking the Livermore Valley – The guests – perhaps 20 - carried back packs with delicious foods to share – there were crisp fresh bread – cheeses – pate – cakes - fruit and nuts, cookies – and a few bottles of icy cold Champaign… This was my favorite way to start the new year – not is some dank banquet hall with a “too loud” band and “rubber chicken” as the entre - but out in the open sunlight of a New Year. Actually this traditional hike took place, rain or shine, with sometimes freezing conditions, and sometimes foggy mist...but we hoped for sun. So after our fine morning picnic we would all troupe back to my friend’s house where there was a large pot of Mulligatawny soup and an oak fire in the fireplace to warm our bones… It was a jolly group.

Mountains in the rain

My wife’s parents lived for several years high in the coastal mountains – One New Years day – after a fine big meal, and a good time together I decided that since it was a lazy afternoon, I would go for a walk down the mountain track – even though it was blowing such a gale that the trees were thrashing wildly and the rain was blowing up the mountain slope.

The muddy track was negotiable – and I made it to the stream in the valley – but it was no stream – it was a fierce roaring torrent from the rain. It was all wonderfully wild –I loved it! And then I slipped and slid my way back up the hill.... back to a slow crackling fire and people that I love.

Corn Husk Panorama

This time of year in Mexico, New Years celebrations take a back seat to “El Dia de Los Reyes” – the day of the Three Kings… According to the Mexican tradition it is on January 6 that they remember the arrival of the three Magi arriving with gifts for the Christ child.

Street Market - Oaxaca

And what is more important for every Mexican child it is also the day for Christmas Season gift giving to children… gifts are not generally exchanged between adults at Christmas – but lavish street fairs proceed the Day of the Kings, so that toys can be seen and purchased.

Carved radish figures

The week between Christmas and New Year is also the week when elaborate panoramas are constructed completely out of over-grown radishes and corn husks– they create whole kingdoms, villages, churches, and market place scenes only of radishes…

Radish guitar player

My Japanese friends, and some other Asian people in our community celebrate New Years day as the most important day of the season. There is generally a gathering of family with special foods and gift giving.

Hear the rhythm? - Pounding mocha rice!

One of the special foods that I dearly love is Mochi rice – traditionally made by boiling a special high gluten rice until soft then hammering into a wooden pestle by two men with large wooden hammers– the trick is that they set us a rhythm and a third man has to reach in between the hammer blows to center the mochi … it takes real coordination….

Finished Mochi cakes - these filled with red bean paste

This is continued until the mocha is very smooth and can be formed into dumplings. These days they use an electric mocha maker that makes wonderful mocha – but it lacks the ceremony of before…

Thai Temple - Fremont CA

Judy and I have visited the local Thai Buddhist temple on New Years Day– where it is possible to see traditional dancing and to eat delicious foods. It is interesting that many Asian people celebrate both the Western New Year and the Asian New Year is February 3 – the date varies from year because it is determined by the cycle of the moon.