EMMET MEARA

New Year’s in Estonia?

Posted Dec. 30, 2011, at 10:52 a.m.

Where are you going for New Year’s Eve?

I simply cannot decide. Texas Larry is coming to town and he wants to go back to Conte’s for old time’s sake and a huge platter of haddock. But we did that last year when Jeff and lovely Sandra showed up, unexpectedly. Larry liked that.

Maybe it’s time for something new.

Such as Estonia.

I don’t know exactly where Estonia is, maybe near some of all those “Stan” countries. We really pig out at Conte’s because of the massive portions. But Estonians believe that celebrants should eat seven, nine or even 12 times on New Year’s Eve, because they are considered the country’s lucky numbers.

If you eat seven times, you gain the strength of seven men, they think. (Of course, you also gain the fat of seven men, but that is another issue.) But much like Conte’s you never actually finish the meal in Estonia. You always leave some on the plate for ancestors and spirits who visit the house for the holidays.

Before you make your reservations for the Estonia Hilton, be warned that the fare consists of pork with sauerkraut, baked potatoes with hog’s head and white and blood sausage. I will stick to the potato salad with navy beets and vegetable pate. Gingerbread and marzipan are the desserts.

We can always have Paris.

I have been planning a trip to France since junior high school when my first language teacher pulled down a map of France. It has been 50 years and I haven’t made it yet. Maybe for New Year’s, when they apparently honor Ted Sylvester, the mayor of Owls Head. Honest. They call New Years Eve “la Saint Sylvestre” and features foie gras, oysters and champagne, of course. But the good thing is the party lasts until Jan. 6 or hospitalization, whichever comes first. The survivors celebrate by enjoying la galette des rois, a sort of puff pastry stuffed with almond paste. The dessert contains a small china character. If you find it, you are king or queen, get to wear a gold paper crown and get to choose a regal partner for a week or two. No word on conjugal rights.

The Germans have not invaded France for a generation or two, so we might let bygones be bygones and consider a visit for New Year’s. You just know instinctively that the Germans know how to eat and drink in celebration. The Germans feature endless fireworks, especially when midnight strikes on “Silvester,” when Germans drink sekt, a sparkling wine. But the part I like is the custom of dropping molten lead into cold water and then reading the results as fortune indicators, sort of like tea leaves with hissing steam. I suppose with enough sekt, you can see anything you want. Those who want to ensure good fortune invite the local chimney sweep (if you can find one) and have him rub some ash on your forehead. Honest. They also have jelly donuts filled with liquor, a delightful combination, I would guess.

Everyone seems to be crazy about this Sylvester guy. In Italy, New Year’s Eve is called “Notte di san Silvestro,” when real Italians wear red underwear for good luck and drop unused items from the second floor window, which could be dangerous if you decided the piano is just taking up space. Italians stuff themselves zampone and cotechino and lentils. No one watches when the Italian president reads his annual message on television at 8:30 p.m. At the stroke of midnight, a lentil stew is served with one spoonful every time the church bells ring.

With these potential trips to Europe, I guess a trip to the Philippines would be out of the question. Too bad. Filipinos spend the holiday celebration dressed in clothes covered with circles and polka dots which supposedly attract money and good fortune. They throw coins at each other at the stroke of midnight, allegedly to increase wealth for the coming year, although logic would dictate just the opposite. Other traditions include serving round fruits (good luck, again) and jumping up as high as you can (to increase height). Setting of fireworks and pounding on those ports and pans will drive away evil spirits, it is believed.

It would also shake loose those guests who have been freeloading since Christmas.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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