More than fireworks at midnight

Be it in a large circle or small, with a divine service or without, our members around the world have rung in the New Year in very different ways. But there is one thing that unites them all—and it’s more than just fireworks at midnight.

The diversity of traditions with which the turn of the year is celebrated is as colourful as a fireworks display. It already begins with the name. For example, in Spain, the last day of the year is called the “Old Night” and in the Netherlands it is known as “Old Year’s Eve”. In English, on the other hand, people call it “New Year’s Eve”, which is similar to the Portuguese name. And both the French and Germans name this event after a fourth-century pope: Sylvester.

Naturally, the decisive difference in the turn of the year is determined by the time on the clock. Just as sunrise and sunset make their way from east to west, so too midnight naturally follows its path across the globe. Interestingly enough, Kiritimati, a coral island in the Pacific which used to be known as “Christmas Island”, is the little speck on earth where the New Year sets off on its course around the world. It is in this part of the island state of Kiribati—together with the neighbouring state of Samoa—that the global starting shot for the festivities is fired. Some 1,500 New Apostolic Christians live on these two island chains, which are part of the working area of the District Church of Australia.

Jakarta is a stronghold for New Year’s celebrations, reports Keefe Setiobudi, one of our correspondents from the District Church of South East Asia. There is plenty happening on the streets of the Indonesian capital on the evening of the big event. New Year’s Day itself is a day off work for many, as offices and schools are closed. People spend the day with family and give gifts to one another. Often, there are also little gifts for Sunday School students from their teachers in church. In Keefe’s congregation, the New Year’s Day service is a firmly established tradition.

This is not the case in all parts of South East Asia, however. In China, this generally Christian day on the calendar is not particularly important, as the Chinese celebrate their own New Year as it appears on their own calendar. Nevertheless, the first Sunday in the new year is a special day for New Apostolic members there. Our brethren stay together after service to enjoy a meal and foster fellowship with singing and other performances. Some of these performances may still be familiar to many from Christmas, but the young people in particular—who are able to leave their work or school obligations behind them for a while—are happy to meet up with friends and brethren in their home congregations once again.

In the heart of Europe, two divine services are part of the firm tradition surrounding the turn of the year. The congregations in Germany gather on New Year’s Eve at 6:00 PM, and then see one another again at 11:00 AM on New Year’s Day, an hour and a half later than their regularly scheduled Sunday services. Only once over the past years was the start of the year not ushered in on 1 January, and that was on 2 January 2011. On that occasion, the church holy day—namely the Sunday—was more important than the secular holiday on the calendar.

After the New Year’s Day service, members in many congregations remain together for a little while longer in a more relaxed atmosphere. On this occasion, both Swiss and German members often even toast the New Year with a glass of champagne. In some parts of Southern Germany there is also a tradition of distributing New Year’s pretzels—an extra-large yeast pastry symbolizing a bond of unity and good wishes.

New Apostolic families mostly spend New Year’s Eve in the circle of their family and friends—which includes an extensive and substantial meal. Here the Germans in particular have a special preference for Swiss national meals: raclette and fondue, fine meats, and plenty of cheese.

A meal together in the family circle is also among the traditions marking the turn of the year in Africa. Ngengo Collins Kabyema from Zambia describes the celebrations as follows: “On this occasion we enjoy food that is not for every day, perhaps rice with chicken and soft drinks, where everyone has one or more bottles to himself.” Both in the cities as well as the villages, people pass the time of waiting for midnight by dancing to the beat of drums. At the stroke of twelve, however, the night resounds with the shrill sounds of tongue-trills (ululation) as fireworks go off to mark the New Year.

The turn of the year is not that big an event in South Africa, reports Shepherd Thomas Laasch, who is originally from Germany and now lives with his family in Fontainebleau: it is in December that the big celebrations take place, namely when the school year is over and summer begins. On New Year’s Eve, people often gather for barbecues and swimming. The year-end divine service will already have taken place on the Sunday before. Meanwhile, the New Year’s Day service takes place on 1 January at 10:00 AM, an hour later than usual.

In Canada, New Apostolic young people enjoy gathering for theme parties in special attire, relates correspondent Christy Eckhardt: families either gather in their homes or in the fellowship rooms of the church to pass the time before the midnight hour over a good meal together. The debut of the year itself is traditionally celebrated with a divine service on the first Sunday of the year—this year with a special transmission service conducted by the District Apostle, which will focus on the Chief Apostle’s motto for the year.

As diverse as the various festive cultures may be, fireworks are part of them all. But the members are also in agreement about what is truly important about the turn of the year: “It is a point in time when we reflect upon what God has given us and to give thanks for it, even if one or the other has perhaps experienced various disappointments,” says Christy Eckhardt from Canada. “And it is also a special point in time to exercise forgiveness and let go of negative feelings, such that everyone can make a good start in the new year—in reconciliation and confidence.”

“That’s how we celebrate the New Year,” confirms Keefe Setiobudi from Indonesia. “We close the old year in gratitude and ask for God’s blessing in the new year.”

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