Illustration by Craig Winzer/ Special to The Sunday
Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017 | 2 a.m.
I crumpled that dollar into my small palm with conviction. Hold it tight as the clock hand turns one year into the next, and the riches will fill my Coke-bottle coin bank by Jan. 2.
At least, it felt that simple to me when my mother and I sustained the family tradition of clutching money at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Hands grasping cash as the calendar turns, the thinking goes, will fill with great wealth in the coming year.
Our little Italian family from the Bronx dreamed big, in money and in food. Great Aunt Mary made everyone eat 12 grapes at midnight, one for every month of a sweet new year. My great-grandmother unearthed a recipe from her youth in Brazil: empanadas of ground beef and green olives made strictly to celebrate New Year’s. My grandmother — keeper of all superstitions — said everyone needed to eat an anchovy for good luck.
My mom’s parents advanced from immigrants to the edge of the middle class, allowing her and my uncle to become the first generation to attend college. They grabbed the opportunity, earning two bachelor’s degrees and three graduate degrees.
That’s more about hard work than magic money. But if they all held cash as the ball dropped in Times Square, then I’m grabbing a 20 from my wallet at 11:59 p.m. and hoping 2018 moves us forward again.
Whether you wish to be healthier or more prosperous, to clear out negative energy and emails or invite exceptional luck, here is a collection of rituals for resetting your life for another 365 days of opportunity. — Adam Candee
TAKE THE ‘POTATO DROP’ TO HEART
OR, TRY THIS
In Colombia, NYE sees some revelers looking for financial portents in potatoes. Three are tossed under the bed: one peeled, one half-peeled and one whole. Without looking, they reach in and grab the first one they touch. The naked tuber signifies being broke, while the one still bearing its full skin is a sign of a profitable year.
“I don’t just want to kiss 2013 goodbye. I want to hit it with a big fat meteor. (There really is a T-shirt for everything.) Happy NYE!”
My Facebook post that New Year’s Eve referenced my shirt, with its world-ending fireball sailing over the words “Nice knowing you.” Suffice to say my heart had been broken. Hard. And the only way to exorcise the sadness was to watch my hometown launch a giant potato from its tallest building.
Boise, Idaho, has since perfected the potato drop (see: internally lit GlowTato with fireworks display), but on that night, it was underwhelming in the best way.
Standing near a man holding a sign that promised the party would end in hell, I watched the barely recognizable mega-potato glide through the freezing air just before midnight. It was pure magic. As it hit bottom, I closed my eyes and vowed to be the potato. A new plant can grow from a battered fragment of what once was whole. — Erin Ryan
LET AN EGG TELL YOUR FORTUNE
Champagne flutes are ubiquitous on NYE, but you might be surprised to see one with a raw egg floating in it. Unless you’re from El Salvador, where it’s typical to crack an egg into water at midnight and leave it on the windowsill. Come morning, the yolk’s transformation is a reading on the coming year.
1. Choose your vessel, whether it’s a Champagne flute or a Mason jar, as long as it’s clear so you can see the whole egg.
2. Pour enough water in the glass to allow for full submersion of the egg.
3. When midnight hits, crack the egg carefully into the water and seal the glass with plastic wrap. Cover it with a kitchen towel and don’t peek until morning.
4. Wake up Jan. 1 and whip off the towel. Look for particular shapes in the floating egg, just as you would a cloud floating overhead. A boat is said to symbolize travel or a move. Tiny bubbles or striations resembling tree branches are interpreted as pregnancy. And if you see a tall column, that symbolizes marriage.
5. Dispose of the egg, unless you fancy making food poisoning part of the tradition.
BURN THE BAD JUJU
OR, TRY THIS
Russians perform an opposite ritual, writing down everything they hope for, burning the list and stirring the cinders into whatever will be drunk during the New Year’s toast.
OR, TRY THIS
Shamans burn sage inside homes by waving the smoldering herb in spaces with the heaviest traffic. The idea is that expelled energy accumulates and must be flushed for “spiritual hygiene.” But it isn’t just the visual that has an effect. Sage smoke has been shown to kill airborne bacteria and release negative ions, the latter linked to positive moods. Just remember to blow out the bundle about 20 seconds after lighting it, and open a door or window to let out stale energy.
No year goes off without a hitch. The good experiences always come with contrast. So on the last day, grab a blank sheet of paper and partake in this Latin American method of emotional purification.
1. Pen a list of the crummiest times. Writing this out is akin to therapeutic journaling, like confronting a ghost before releasing it so it no longer haunts you. Include things big and small that are impeding your positive outlook.
2. Find a fireplace. This is vital, as you don’t want to kick off the New Year by accidentally burning the house down as well. Make sure the chimney flue is open to release any smoke, and place your list well inside the fireplace.
3. Grab matches or a lighter. Depending on your personality, you might want to take a breath and think good thoughts before igniting the paper. Otherwise, just light it up and watch the ashes transform to catharsis.
ROCK YELLOW (OR RED) UNDIES
Credited to Venezuela, the custom of wearing yellow underwear for a lucky New Year is practiced in many places. Some take a pants-free run through the street, while others fully embrace the silliness by wearing the eye-catching undies outside of their clothes.
Brazilians wear red underwear to signal the gods of romance to bring love or keep the sparks ignited in a longtime relationship.
TAKE A LEAP
Many credit the Danes with ceremonial plate-smashing at midnight, imbuing the front doors of friends and neighbors with good luck as they might christen a ship. But their less messy way of welcoming a lucky New Year is climbing on chairs and leaping off when the first second ticks. The idea is you spend that first moment in the air, disconnected from any residual negativity back on Earth.
RING BELLS (AND PLAY HOOKY)
OR, TRY THIS
Lighting fireworks or clanging pots and pans to make noise may not be your speed. Try taping bubble wrap to the floor and having the whole family jump on it at midnight.
Making noise as the clock strikes the first minute of the New Year is a cross-cultural tradition, but the Japanese take it to another level. Buddhist temples ring their bells at midnight — not just for each hour, but 108 times. The significance is that Buddhists believe humans have that many shortcomings to dispel as they look ahead to a fresh year. The bell’s warm sounds and vibrations are said to create a state of deep meditation and introspection, aimed at flushing out “evil passions” such as jealousy, greed and anger. After this spiritual cleansing, Japanese people take Jan. 1 off, considering it bad luck to work.
SMASH A POMEGRANATE
You know how frustrating it is to get at the sweet little jewels inside a pomegranate? This is your chance to channel the rage into something good. Greeks chuck the fruit on the ground at midnight, and the bigger the splatter field, the more prosperity foreseen.
MAKE RESOLUTIONS (EVEN IF YOU KNOW THEY WON’T STICK)
U.S. News & World Report finds that by the second week of February, about 80 percent of the people who made New Year’s Resolutions have broken them. One root cause is the emotional friction inherent to change. To set yourself up in a good way: Think small. Build up trust in yourself; that you will do what you say you will. Invent challenges in the service of trust building. Focus on the positive, even if you don’t quite meet daily goals. And develop your sense of self-awareness, which is different than brutal self-critique.
Skepticism comes naturally to me, but I make a notable exception for new year’s resolutions. I unapologetically adore them.
It does not matter that one study from the University of Scranton in 2015 suggested only 8 percent of people actually achieve their new year’s goal. It does not matter that I haven’t kept any of my own and have usually forgotten about them by summer.
The collective feeling of aspiration that washes over the masses as the calendar switches over is what really matters. It represents hope, which might be the most underrated and important of all our human emotions. It’s a grand reminder that with great exception, most people in this world are trying the best they can and would like to be better. That’s worth celebrating, so I am always friendly to all the newcomers who inevitably flood my gym in January, and I hope they extend that same warmth to me when they see me in the produce aisle of the grocery store attempting to buy unprocessed food instead of microwave meals.
And who knows? Next year could be different! 2018 could be the year we all get stronger, find love, save more money, topple evil giants, and floss every day! If we fail at our goals, however big or small they may be, then we at least will have tried, which means more than hollow words of cynics and skeptics. Plus, there will always be 2019 and a chance to try all over again. — April Corbin
PRACTICAL THINGS YOU CAN DO TO PREPARE FOR 2018
• CLEAN HOUSE: Some cultures look to the humble broom as a way to literally sweep the old energy out of the house. In the Philippines, it involves a bit more aerobics. Every light switch should be flipped on to ward off evil spirits, and every cabinet, window and door opened to let 2017 seep out. When the clock strikes 12, run around gleefully shutting everything.
• PAY DEBT: In an opinion piece for Forbes, best-selling author Neale Godfrey compared carrying debt to an extra 30 pounds. Spending less to save is great, but you’re not doing yourself any favors sitting on money that was never yours and letting the interest compound. Set a goal for paying down debt each month that is uncomfortable enough to really make a dent in what you owe. Once you’ve paid off your credit cards, you’ll be amazed how rapidly your balance — and happiness — increase.
• UNCLUTTER YOUR LIFE: This applies to the closet, garage, pantry and every tiny kitchen drawer, but also messes in your communication-crammed digital life. Email and social media accounts get bogged down with unwanted newsletters, promotions and “friends.” To escape the clutter, tackle your friend list on Facebook, feeling no guilt. Then figure out who has your email address, and who’s been abusing it.
For physical spaces in need of a purge, kill three birds with one stone. This is the season when giving is most underlined, and it’s also your last chance to donate and take the tax write-off. The IRS says fair market value for donations to Goodwill can be deducted on your federal tax return, so you can unclutter, make a buck and someone’s day with gently used treasures.
Unroll.me is a free website and app that makes it easy to see and manage where you’re subscribed. And for anyone with many thousands of unread emails — including all those YouTube videos from Mom — Mailstrom can identify bundles of related mail so you can click once and trash en masse.