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December 31, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, December 31, 2004

Multi-cultural celebrations of New Year's Multi-cultural celebrations of New Year's (December 31, 2004)

More annual festivities in months to come

By Roseanne Pereira and Candice Shih

Asked to describe the New Year's holiday to a foreigner, an American might say we go to parties, drink champagne and count down to midnight, when we kiss a loved one.

While different in many cultures, New Year's is typically a happy holiday when families and friends gather to simply be merry. As the home of people from many countries, Mountain View is witness to these various celebrations.

Most Americans are aware of Chinese New Year's festivities, which include public parades and festive family gatherings. Li Ping, a Mountain View resident from China, remembers celebrating the holiday in his native country as a week-long vacation.

The Chinese New Year is usually in February according to the Chinese lunar calendar. Families gather to watch different celebrations in various parts of China. During the rest of the week, people dress up and visit family and friends, said Ping.

Like the Chinese, Mexicans consider red a lucky color. Special traditions on New Year's, which is celebrated at the same time and in much the same way as in America, include wearing red underwear to find love in the new year, drinking red punch and eating red fruit salad.

And many Mexicans eat exactly 12 grapes when the clock strikes midnight for good luck in each month to come.

The Thai New Year occurs over three days in March, according to Pat Kriausakul of Mountain View's Bangkok Spoon Thai restaurant.

Its roots come from ancient Buddhism. Thai families typically bring food as an offering to a monk early in the morning before feasting together in the evening.

"In our culture, to give food to the monk, to give food to the poor, it's a good thing," said Kriausakul.

Some religions also celebrate their own new year holidays.

The Jewish new year begins in the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, usually during September, and is known as Rosh Hashanah. It is celebrated by attending services at sundown and eating apples and honey.

Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days that conclude on Yom Kippur, which is typically in October.

Those of Muslim faith celebrate the start of their new year via its lunar calendar, which is 354 days in length, and begins anew on Feb. 10, 2005.

In Iraq, relatives get together, drink tea and eat traditional foods such as baklava and zerda, a popular rice milk pudding, according to Hala Alshahwany, an Iraqi-American living in Mountain View.

On this day, people sing traditional songs and attend the mosque, where they share hopes for peace and health in the new year.

The Gregorian calendar used in America is also observed in Iraq, Alshahwany said. On Dec. 31, Iraqis gather with friends and families to count down to the new year. Following the stroke of midnight, people shake hands and kiss each other on both cheeks, wishing everyone a happy new year.

"Spiritually, the celebration is very much the same, with loved ones, music, singing and good company," said Alshahwany.

E-mail Roseanne Pereira at [email protected] and Candice Shih at [email protected]

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