New Year’s Eve in Wales, UK and the Yucatan, Mexico
By Correspondent Mark Michael in Merida, Yucatan.
For most of my life I have spent New Year’s Eve in the UK. Up until the millennium New Year’s Eve celebrations were a pretty hoc affair, as far as I was concerned. When I had a young child I mainly stayed at home, otherwise it would be a party at a friend’s house. As my son grew older the parties continued, or we may have gone down to the local pubs and go from place to place until about 11:30 p.m., and there you stayed until midnight; it depended on our mood and the weather.
New Year’s Eve 2000 changed the way I celebrated. Virtually every pub I knew was having a ticket-only party. It was a bit of pot luck whether you received value for your money or not. Nearly all the pubs had some kind of buffet and a raffle draw with prizes. The worst performers had some dried up sandwiches and a couple of sausage rolls with maybe a plate of chips. The better ones had a really excellent hot and cold buffet, which alone was worth the price of the ticket. Added to that were some fantastic draw prizes. I say it was a bit of pot luck because the price of the ticket (typically £20-£25) didn’t always reflect the quality of the party.
Since that 2000 New Year’s Eve, pubs have maintained the idea of charging for admission. It has changed the spontaneity of the night, for me at least.
One thing that has not changed is the weather. It is cold—that goes without saying (it is mid-winter, only a few days after the winter solstice) but it is often wet and windy. Another tradition that has kept up is, at about 5 minutes to midnight, everyone crosses hands and forms a big circle. Then, as midnight chimes, everyone starts singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. The thing is that no matter how many times we sing it, how many times we hear it—apart from the first and last line—nobody knows the words. Fortunately you can get away with a bit of la-la-la-ing or humming. Then a chaste cheek-to-cheek kiss (unless somebody has had too much to drink) and the men shake hands (we are British after all) and mumble something to their friends.
I am about to celebrate my third New Year’s Eve in the Yucatan. The first New Year’s Eve was celebrated with a group of US and Canadian ex-pats at a friend’s house party. Apart from the fact that we were all dressed in shorts and short sleeved shirts, and instead of being in a centrally heated house we were in the back yard by the swimming pool, it was exactly the same as many New Year’s Eves that I had celebrated in the past. The only difference was that one person did actually know all the words to ‘Auld Lang Syne’, and the Americans and Canadians who didn’t know the words na-na-na’d where I la-la-la’d.
For our second New Year’s Eve, my partner and I decided that we would go to a local restaurant in Merida and see how the locals celebrated. Unfortunately the very expensive restaurant we chose was full of the upper-echelon of Merida society who consider themselves different from the locals. They seem to be more restrained and more interested in looking elegant and sophisticated than in letting their hair down and having fun. So after our meal we decided to leave and find a local bar and end the year. This was totally different. It was full of exuberant Yucatecan families (including children and babies) all determined to have a party. As midnight approached the waiters started handing out plates with a few grapes on them to everyone. I was about to eat one when a gentleman from the next table explained that everyone has 12 grapes. As the clock strikes out the midnight hour one grape is eaten to each chime.
On our walk to the bar we noticed an unusually high number of old men sleeping on the side of the road. Somewhat alarmingly, just before midnight, two waiters had carried the closest of the sleeping old men into the middle of the road. As the clock struck midnight they set this poor old man on fire, at which point everyone cheered. A few grapes which were being eaten at the same time ended up getting fired across the room but everyone took it in good spirits. My new friend from the next table explained that what I took to be old men were actually stuffed dolls (which came as a big relief) that were burned to symbolize the burning of all the bad things from the past year, so the New Year could be started afresh. After the grapes had been eaten and the ‘old man’ was merrily burning away, some of our fellow diners brought out home-made rockets, which they lit with a cigarette and then launched from their hands. Now to be fair to all the launchers of rockets, they did manage to let go of them before they exploded, although a few were only 20 or 30 feet high and we did get rained on by the hot debris and most did actually go upwards—more or less. We left about 3 a.m., just as everyone else was starting on the karaoke.
So as my third New Year’s Eve approaches I will definitely be spending it in a local restaurant/bar where people know how to enjoy themselves.
Top Tourist Tip – If you in anyway resemble an old man, it is probably best not to stop on a bench for a little snooze just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, you might just get mistaken for one of the dolls that gets burned.
Mark Michael is originally from Wales but is now currently living in Merida in the Yucatan. Previously having been in the army, worked on jet engines, been a mechanic, supervised concrete cutting, sold second-hand cars, worked as an order picker, had two businesses, managed a shift at a battery factory and worked for an electronics company, in 2011 decided to take a gap year to decide what sort of job is really best suited to the skills and talents acquired over the years. Now on the third year of the gap year, he still hasn't found a particular slot that suits. Whilst busy researching for that elusive job, he spends his time lazing in the pool and visiting local bars and restaurants while almost supporting himself with writing.