Traditions vary, but optimism is universal

The celebration of the New Year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4,000 years ago. Although the date for New Year's Day is not the same in every culture, it is always a time for celebration and for customs intended to ensure good luck in the coming year.

Good-luck rituals from around the world are believed to bring good fortune and prosperity in the coming year.

The suckling pig is the symbol for good luck for the New Year in Austria. In England, good fortune for the coming year is placed in the hands of the first houseguest of the year. The Brits believe the first visitor of each year should be male and bearing gifts. For good luck, the guest should enter through the front door and leave through the back. Guests who are empty-handed or unwanted are not allowed to enter first.

An old Sicilian tradition says good luck will come to those who eat lasagna on New Year's Day, but dining on macaroni or any other noodle will bring bad luck.

When the clock strikes midnight, the Spanish eat 12 grapes, one with every toll, to bring good luck for the 12 months ahead.

The Greeks bake special New Year's bread with a coin buried in the dough. The first slice is for the Christ child. The second slice for the father of the household and the third slice are for the house. If the third slice holds the coin, spring will come early that year.

For the Chinese New Year, every front door is adorned with a fresh coat of red paint, red being a symbol of good luck and happiness. The whole family prepares a feast for the New Year. Interestingly, all knives are put away for 24 hours to keep anyone from cutting themselves, which is thought to cut the family's good luck for the next year.

The kiss shared at the stroke of midnight in the United States is derived from masked balls that have been common throughout history. As tradition has it, the masks symbolize evil spirits from the old year and the kiss is the purification into the New Year.

Whatever your tradition to ring in the New Year, may you reflect on 2011 and be thankful for all the goodness and grace of the past year. May 2012 bring you much joy, happiness, good health and prosperity.