Like

8 New Year’s Traditions Around The World

Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

As we ring in New Year 2022, here are different traditions that mark the beginning of the year from around the world!

 

1. Syria & Lebanon: a ‘‘white dish’’


In Syria and parts of
Lebanon, New Year’s is celebrated with a “white dish” representing the hope for all things good for the year. The ‘‘white dish’’ could be a scrumptious plate of shakriyeh, kibbeh labanieh, sheikh el mahshi, muhalabia or just a simple bowl of cereal with milk1. As in several other cultures, the color white is considered particularly auspicious for New Year’s as it is associated with new beginnings, peace and prosperity. 

 

2. Ecuador: burning the Año Viejo (‘‘old year’’)


In Ecuador, the New Year is ushered in with the burning of effigies of all people/things that represent the year gone by. These effigies could range from that of politicians, television personalities to that of beloved superheroes and cartoon characters. As a part of the
tradition of Año Viejo, revelers jump over the burning effigies twelve times for each month of the year in a symbolic cleansing of the bad from the past year before commencing the New Year.2

 

3. Armenia: breaking of the ‘‘year bread’’


In Armenia, a sweet bread called the
‘‘year bread’’ (also known as gata, darin, or darehats) is baked to mark the New Year. Although the recipe for this bread varies from region to region, it usually consists of flour, sugar, butter, eggs and often an Armenian yogurt known as matsoni. A coin, walnut, or a button is hidden in this bread and when it is broken (yes, broken not cut)3 on New Year’s the person who finds it in their piece is considered to have the best fortune for the year. 

 

4. Spain: las doce uvas de la suerte (the 12 grapes of luck)


In Spain, twelve grapes are eaten, synchronized with the sound of the twelve strikes of the bell marking the New Year.
This tradition is believed to lead an individual into twelve lucky and prosperous months. In more recent years, the grapes are stuffed into the mouth all at once and the ringing of the bell is substituted with loud cheers from family and friends.

 

5. Peru: three potatoes 


In Peru, three potatoes – one peeled, one half peeled, and one unpeeled – are hidden under a chair or a couch before midnight. When family/friends gather at midnight, a potato is picked at random.
This potato is believed to predict the person’s/family’s fortunes for the year to come. The peeled potato signifies bad financial fortune, half-peeled signifies a normal year, and unpeeled signifies a great bounty in the year ahead.

 

6. France: galette de Rois (‘‘Kings’ cake’’)


In France, New Year celebrations extend to January 6, when the feast of Epiphany – marking the three wise men’s visit to baby Jesus – is celebrated. On this day, people tuck into a sweet pastry called
galette des Rois. Two little figurines are hidden inside the pastry; whoever finds it is deemed King or Queen for the day. 

 

 

7. Iran: the haftseen (هفت‌ سین), spread of seven S’s


Iranians celebrate their New Year,
Nowruz (نوروز), at the beginning of spring (on March 20th or 21st). They usher in the New Year with a ‘haft-seen’ table, set with seven symbolic dishes starting with the Persian letter seen (س, S). These may include sabzeh (سبزه, sprouts) for rebirth, sekkeh (سکه, coins) for wealth, sib (سیب, apple) for beauty, samanoo (سمنو, pudding) for bravery, sumaq (سماق, spice) for sunshine, seer (سیر, garlic) for health, and serkeh (سرکه, vinegar) for patience. 

 

8. From ancient Babylonia to you (wherever you are) today: New Year’s resolutions


The Babylonian
akitu festival is one of the oldest recorded New Year celebrations in the world. It developed from a semiannual agricultural festival to an annual New Year’s national holiday, and reached its zenith in the first millennium B.C.E.4 As a part of the festivities, Babylonians would make promises to gods to return borrowed objects and to pay any outstanding debts – these became an early forerunner to our own New Year’s resolutions today! According to a 2016 study, 41% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. They are, after all, a triumph of hope over experience.


As we see above, different countries and regions of the world usher in the New Year in their own unique ways, however, common to them all is the hope for a new year full of happiness, peace and prosperity. 

If your New Year celebrations this year include a resolution, consider learning a new language or brushing up an old one! If you’re on the fence, check out our top 10 reasons why learning a new language will benefit you. NaTakallam’s language learning is taught by displaced, native speakers and is available in Armenian, Arabic (MSA+ dialects), English, French, Kurdish, Persian and Spanish. This New Year, learn new languages, create new experiences!

Wishing all our readers and learners a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year 2022!

 


1  Siham Tergeman. Daughter of Damascus: A Memoir. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994. p.52. 
2 This symbolic jumping over flames can also be found in Iranian New Year (Nowruz) celebrations. See, no. 7 to learn more.
3 To some Armenians, bread symbolizes abundance, and hence, it is never cut with a knife (but broken) so as not to curb their good luck. For more, see: Nane Khachatryan, New Year in Armenia: A Festive Dinner, ecokayan.com/armenia/travel/explore/new-year-dinner-in-armenia. 
4 Julye M. Bidmead, The Akitu Festival: Religious Continuity and Royal Legitimation in Mesopotamia. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2004. Introduction.

 

5 ways to say “thank you” in Arabic

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

Ahlan (أهلا, hello)! Last week, our blog explored 5 ways of saying “thank you” in Spanish. This week, let us dive into 5 different ways of expressing gratitude in Arabic.

Although each country in the MENA region has its own colloquial dialect, ‘aammiya (عامية), here are 5 ways to say “thank you” that can be understood almost anywhere in the region.

1. Shukran (شكراً)

Shukran is used in all Arabic-speaking countries, in both formal and informal settings, and is understood widely among speakers of all dialects of Arabic. It comes from the root verb shakara (شكر) meaning “to thank”. As a common response, you may hear al-’awfoo (العفو) or ‘af-waan (عفواً) which literally means “forgive/pardon”, and is the equivalent of “you’re welcome” or “no problem” in English.

2. Tislam/Tislami (تسلم/تسلمي)

Heard mostly throughout the Levant and parts of the Gulf, this phrase comes from the root verb salama (سلم) meaning “to come out safe/healthy”. It can be used when a friend or family member gives you something or does something nice for you.

Add ideyk (إيديك – to a male) or ideyki (إيديكي – to a female) to the end of the phrase and you will quite literally say “may your hands enjoy health” – a way of thanking the person who gave you something.

3. Mamnoun(t)ak/ek (ممنونك/ممنونتك)

Mamnountak/ek (female speaker) or mamnounak/ek (male speaker), is used throughout the Levantine region to say “thank you” or to mean “I’m grateful to you”.

If you’ve got this down, you know some Persian, too! This Arabic loanword, mamnoun (ممنون), which is gender-neutral in Persian, is commonly used to say “thank you” by Persian speakers as well. Watch out this space to learn more about expressing gratitude in Persian!

4. Ya‘tik al-‘afiya (يعطيك العافية)

Literally translating to “may [God] give you health” this phrase is said in recognition and appreciation of someone’s hard work. In response, you may hear Allah y-a‘fik, which also means “may God bless you with good health”. It is also used in the Levant as a way to say “hi” when entering a shop, acknowledging and praising the fact that the people attending you are working hard.

Caution: in Moroccan Darija dialect, ‘afiya means fire, so please be careful while using this phrase in Morocco!

 5. Yekather khairak/ek (يكثر خيرك)

An abbreviated version of the saying “I wish [that God] increases your welfare”, this phrase can be a way of saying “thank you so much for helping me” across the Arab world. Khair (خير) is the noun meaning “good” often heard as bekhair (بخير, well) when responding to the question “How are you?”

These are a few ways to express gratitude in Arabic. This holiday season, learn more about the subtleties of the Arabic language and culture with NaTakallam’s language partners! Sign up for sessions here. Offer the gift of conversation to loved ones, near or far, here!

5 Spanish words with Arabic origins

Reading Time: 3 minutes
We have all learned and witnessed how languages evolve over time and geography. The roots of a language are often tied to their region of origin, their birthplace so to speak. The European Romance languages such as French, Spanish and Italian evolved from Latin while the Semitic languages such as Arabic, Amharic and Hebrew all originated in the modern day Middle East.
That said, languages are full of complexity, often interacting in dynamic and organic ways. For instance, when traveling through Spain, it is near impossible to avoid local vocabulary and names derived from… Arabic! The influence of Arabic on Spanish language (and culture!) largely originates from Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula between 711 and 1492 AD.
Because the origins of words can be fascinating… Here are our top five Spanish words borrowed from Arabic!

1. Almohada / المخدة

Has indoor time and chilly fall weather got you snuggling up more these days? Spanish speakers owe their good night’s sleep to Arabic! Almohada comes from المخدة (al-mikhadda), meaning cushion or pillow – and potentially one of our favorite quarantine objects. And it inspired Palestinian writer Mourid Barghouti’s beautiful poem.

2. Jirafa / زرافة

According to Oxford Languages, the earliest recorded origin of the word “giraffe” – “girafe” in French” and “jirafa” in Spanish – is actually from Arabic, زرافة (“zarafa)”, which roughly translates to “fast walker” – nothing to do with its height nor its distinctively long neck!

3. Mezquino / مسكين

Did you know the Spanish word “mezquino” meaning “stingy” or “petty” is derived from Arabic’s مسكين (miskeen) meaning “poor” or “miserly”? ¡Si! The Arabic word itself is a loanword from Akkadian, the oldest known Semitic language, spoken in ancient Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq).

4. Ojalá / إن شاء الله

Ojalá”, which means “hopefully” or “let’s hope so”, comes from the Arabic phrase “inshallah” (إِنْ شَاءَ اَللَّه), which means “God-willing” and is also used in Arabic to reflect the hope that something will happen. Nowadays, it is used by all Arabic speakers, regardless of faith groups.

5. Barrio / بري

The word “barrio”, meaning neighborhood, actually originates from the Arabic word “بري” (barriy) which refers to the outside or the exterior. This year we’ve definitely learned to love and value both barrio and بري a whole lot more than earlier!

Fascinated by etymology and languages? Look no further. With NaTakallam, pick up Spanish and/or Arabic with our native tutors from displaced and refugee backgrounds! Sign up here.

Scroll to Top