In Japan, New Year’s Eve traditions include watching the first sunrise – whether on TV or in a carefully chosen location – and eating osechi. The practice of eating osechi began in the Heian period, when someone decided to give Japanese women a break and make it taboo to cook meals for the first 3 daysof the year. Instead, Japanese women prepare the easily-preserved osechi foods in advance and enjoy 3 days of hassle-free feasting. Osechi treats include daidai (Japanese bitter orange), kamaboko (broiled fish paste), kazunoko (herring roe), zoni (mochi soup), and tai (seabream), among others. Each dish represents something positive due to the kanji used to write its name: for example, kazunoko is symbolic for couples wishing to conceive and kuro-mame (black soybeans) symbolizes health. There appears to be a definite split among the older generations and the younger when it comes to appreciating osechi; students my age and younger appear to despise it whereas students my parents’ age and older look forward to the delights each year.
In New York, all New Year’s Eve plans must be made at the last minute, after endless rounds of haggling with friends. It is extremely fashionable to scorn the poor saps who go to an abhorrently crowded and police-patrolled Times Square to watch the ball drop, especially on a bitterly cold night. Much better to be in a lively Irish pub, toast your beloved college roommate on her engagement, soak up the festive atmosphere and end the evening in a crappy diner; discussing your usual “be healthier” resolution over a plate of 9 dollar mozzarella sticks.