Auld Lang Syne and Other New Year’s Customs

Out with the old and in with the new as they say! With the New Year upon us, here’s a look at some of the customs surrounding the last day of the year.

The Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop is a popular event that has been happening annually in New York City ever since 1907. The ball begins its descend down a specially designed flagpole in 60 seconds at 11:59 pm as people join their voices to count down. The ball can display more than 16 million vibrant colors and billions of patterns, creating a spectacular light show on top of the One Times Square skyscraper.

“Auld Lang Syne,” which means “times gone by” is a traditional standby that is sung at midnight on New Year’s Eve. It was written by Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788 and is based on a folk song.

In some cities of Colombia, Cuba and Puerto Rico, there is a tradition of making a male doll that is stuffed with memories from the past year, all dressed with the clothes of the outgoing year and is called Mr. Old Year. At midnight, the doll is set on fire symbolizing erasing of the bad memories.

SydneyFireworksLas Vegas, Nevada, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and New York City are among the top places to celebrate New Year’s Eve. One of the biggest light shows to call in the New Year takes place in Sydney, Australia, where more than 80,000 fireworks are set off from Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Mexicans are known to eat 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve. They pop one each at the stroke of midnight, which symbolizes the nature of the months ahead. One needs to watch out in the month the grape tastes bitter! Pomegranates are eaten for prosperity while figs are for fertility.

In many South American countries, people are known to eat cabbage, collards, kale and chard on New Year’s Eve. It is believed that since the green veggies look like money, eating them will bring economic success in the coming year.

In Japan, there is a Buddhist tradition of ringing the temple bell 108 times on New Year’s Eve. It signifies the number of evil desires we suffer from on Earth and the ringing of the bell symbolizes expelling of those sins from the past year. Many temples conduct this ceremony and Watch-Night Bell in Tokyo is one of the popular gathering spots.

In the annual Hogmany celebrations of Scotland, men swing blazing fireballs over their heads as they parade through the streets. The age old tradition is believed to bring a pure and sun-filled year.

According to “Entertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl: An Encyclopedia,” the first person you encounter in the New Year could set the tone for the whole year ahead. “Kiss someone at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve and you will have a year of luck in love,” writes Joanne Wannan in her book “Kisstory: A Sweet and Sexy Look at the History of Kissing.”

Noisemaking and fireworks have been an integral part of New Year’s Eve celebrations since ancient times as it’s believed they dispel evil spirits and bring good luck.

Greeks in 600 B.C. began following a tradition of using a baby to signify the upcoming year. In order to celebrate their god of wine, Dionysus, people paraded a baby in a basket, representing annual rebirth of that god as the spirit of fertility.

Tech Trends That Will Define 2017

No one can predict how the future will shake out, but global design and strategy firm Frog is making some educated guesses for 2017.

Last year, the firm correctly predicted that virtual reality would explode in popularity and that sensors in things like appliances and thermometers would continue to shrink in size.

Buildings will harness the powers of nature.
Around the world, large companies are leading the way in building solar-powered offices that don’t rely on fossil fuels. Frog strategist Agnes Pyrchla expects the trend to continue in 2017. “Taking a nod from natural patterns,” she writes, “material scientists and architects have developed bricks with bacteria, made cement that captures carbon dioxide and created building cooling systems using nothing but the available wind and our vibrant sun.”

Business bots are going to be huge.
In the way the communication app Slack has merged bots into its chat service, frog strategist Toshi Mogi believes entrepreneurs will use artificial intelligence to handle the logistics of running a business. “The entrepreneur will commission an assortment of business bots to bring their vision to reality,” Mogi says.
He uses the example of selling high-tech skateboards.  A research and development bot might automatically solicit designs from freelancers, while a sales and marketing bot polishes the online e-commerce platform — all to help the business owner work faster and more precisely.

Synthetic food will be in every grocery store.
Designer Andrea Markdalen sees two big changes in store for food. The first is that plant-based proteins will gain popularity as a replacement for slaughtering live animals. The second is that tissues drawn painlessly from live animals will be engineered to create synthetic, lab-grown food. “In 2017, we’ll see a broad range of new plant-based meat replacements at your local grocery store,” Markdalen writes. “They will extend well beyond the vegan aisle, where most are currently relegated, and they will taste better than ever.”

Virtual reality will take over sporting events and concerts.
Instead of shelling out hundreds of dollars for a Kanye West concert in 2017, Piet Aukeman and Sonny King say virtual reality will finally make its mark in home entertainment. Venues will be able to livestream entire shows for people who want to watch without leaving their living room. NextVR is already partnering with Live Nation to make the setup a (non-virtual) reality. “For those consumers that lack the VR hardware,” they write, “the community can provide ‘VR Stations’ in malls, transportation terminals, and open spaces.”

Sensors in important spaces could save us lots of headaches.
All types of rooms — living rooms, retail floors, hospital bays — will come embedded with sensors, say Chad Lundberg and Jud Holliday. These sensors will pick up information on usage patterns at different times of day, in different noise environments and in different temperatures. Companies like Vivint already produce security systems that work in a similar way. Vivint’s Smart Home technology bundles security cameras with locks and thermostats, allowing it to both keep people safe and know when to save energy.
“Spaces will no longer simply house and support your activities,” Lundberg and Holliday write. “They will participate.”

Autonomous vehicles will get a whole lot smarter.
With Tesla and Uber both vying to break into (really, create) the driverless car industry, frog creative director Matt Conway thinks we’re not far from autonomous vehicles saving us from ourselves. With the right technology, multiple cars could “talk” to one another and reduce the chance for crashes. An emergency maneuver like running a red light to avoid getting rear-ended “might seem reckless if it was taken by a human,” Conway says, but because autonomous cars could work together, that measure could be  “as reasonable and life-preserving as any taken by a professional body guard.”

Virtual reality will be used as part of therapy.
VR as therapy is something of a repeat from frog’s 2016 list; only this year, the company expects it will become so immersive that it could rewire people’s brains. There is already research that shows VR can help people overcome their fears and PTSD. Designer Kyle Wolf suspects the technology move into rehab for physical brain injuries as well. “Mindmaze, a pioneer in this space, is already creating virtual environments for stroke patients,” Wolf says, “causing their brains to re-wire themselves and re-establish mobility in forgotten limbs.”

Doctors will have huge data sets to make medicine more precise.
Precision medicine — the practice of tailoring treatments to each patient’s unique case — is incredibly hard. It takes fine-toothed data that most hospitals simply don’t have. In the future, as medical records become entirely digitized and uniform between facilities, strategy director Allison Green-Schoop believes precision medicine will only improve. Doctors will be able to look up much more local data, such as water quality in your zip code, to gain insight into a disease’s source, not just its symptoms.

Sounds will hold our attention like never before.
For the last 30 years, humans have interacted with their technology through screens, which rely primarily on imagery and visual cues. But creative director Christine Todorovich sees a future in which sounds start playing a much larger role. Instead of controlling your cooking device by manually selection options in an iPad app, you might be able to articulate commands openly in your kitchen. Companies like Here One already try to help people personalize their sonic experiences. “The combination of screen fatigue and technology embedded in everything from cars to homes, is exposing a need for new types of interfaces that extend beyond the visual,” Todorovich says.

Drones will assist in humanitarian work.
Drones are great for much more than stylized movie shots. Designer Lilian Tse cites efforts in Rwanda, where a drone airport facilitates medical deliveries to people in need, as clear evidence that humanitarian aid is their best use. “The definition of a drone is ‘unmanned aircraft,'” she writes, “but behind the unmanned aircraft is a person driving the intention and potential of what the aircraft can do for people in need.”
This year, Tse says we’ll see more people move into that service.

Machine learning will teach us about ourselves.
When Google’s robot, AlphaGo, beat a human player in the ancient Chinese game Go, artificial intelligence experts cheered. It was a giant leap forward in the field of machine learning. But frog senior strategist Rebecca Blum says AlphaGo also taught expert Go players how to play the game better. They learned from the machine’s own learning. According to Blum, machines can help us understand ourselves in a variety of ways. Algorithms that automatically write prose might teach us about creating writing. Scientists could continue learning about the brain based on how complex neural networks store new information.

These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things

The magic of Christmas is always with us. Traditions change as the years roll past, but we can all remember those special Christmas moments of years gone by. Here, in no particular order, are some of our favorites.

Picking out a real tree
Making our own cards and gifts
Flipping through the Sears catalog
Family outings to see department store displays
Singing Christmas carols with neighbors
“Kissing Balls” made of mistletoe
Stockings that were actual socks
Tree garlands made of popcorn and cranberries
Ornaments made of paper
ChristmasMagicBubble lights
Decorating with cardboard houses and deer
Pixie elves and bottle brush trees
Artificial Christmas trees made of aluminum
Color wheels
Waiting until the night before Christmas to decorate
Covering the tree with shiny metallic tinsel and garlands
Watching the children’s play at church on Christmas Eve
Trying to catch Santa in action
Going to bed in matching pajamas
Having “The Night Before Christmas” read to us
Faking sleep so Santa Claus would come
Not seeing presents under the tree until Christmas morning
Oranges, tangerines, walnuts and chocolate coins in our stockings
Dressing up on Christmas Day
Getting lost in a book we were just given
Toys that didn’t require batteries or internet
Seeing a family member dress the part of Santa
Getting that one present we really, really wanted
Mom’s coffee cake on Christmas morning
Loved ones who are gone but never forgotten

Merry Christmas Everyone!

YouTuber, Brexit and ‘Get Your Freak On’ Enter OED

Britain has yet to leave the European Union, but the term for its departure — Brexit — has earned a place in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Oxford University Press said that the Brexit is among new entries in the authoritative reference work’s latest update. It’s defined as “the (proposed) withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and the political process associated with it.”

The word has rapidly entered common usage since Britain voted in June to leave the 28-nation E.U. The formal exit process is expected to start next year.

The related word Grexit — a potential Greek exit from the E.U.’s single currency — is also a new addition to the dictionary.

Other new entries include glam-ma, a glamorous grandmother; YouTuber, a producer of material for the video-sharing website; verklempt, an adjective meaning overwhelmed by emotion; and “get your freak on,” a term for exuberant sex or dancing.

The OED traces the history, meaning and pronunciation of more than 829,000 words and aspires to be the most complete record of the English language ever assembled.

AMC’s Top 20 Christmas Movies

Which of these top 20 Yuletide flicks compiled by AMC tugs at your heartstrings — or makes you laugh — the hardest?

1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Decking the halls and other traditions are all colossal failures for the Griswold family — riotous because it hits close to home.

2. Elf
It may star Will Ferrell as a dim-witted elf, but the movie’s payoff is old-fashioned, familiar, and welcome.

3. Home Alone
A game changer for the Christmas-movie category: it has action, like a zip line to the neighbors’ house.

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Boris Karloff’s dulcet baritone lends sinister charm to everyone’s favorite Who hater in this short, sweet Christmas special.

5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
This sixties stop-motion-animation movie is impossibly cute, right down to Sam the Snowman.

6. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Charlie Brown sets out to find the true meaning of Christmas in this animated anti-commercialism classic.

7. It’s a Wonderful Life
Whether or not you have your own guardian angel hovering, the lesson here is that it’s not money that makes you rich.

8. Miracle on 34th Street
Uplifting without being cloying. It’s no wonder that this movie is a much-beloved holiday chestnut.

9. A Christmas Story
This comedy satisfies two sets of audiences: kids (Ralphie gets his BB gun) and parents (it does exactly what they warned him it would).

10. The Santa Clause
Tim Allen deconstructs Saint Nick — and reconstructs his waistline — as a hapless Santa in training.

11. Frosty the Snowman
This holiday staple features one of the most memorably catchy Christmassy theme songs ever.

12. A Christmas Carol
George C. Scott plays Scrooge in this classic made-for-TV version of the Charles Dickens holiday tale.

13. White Christmas
The follow-up to Holiday Inn is once again full of Irving Berlin tunes, with Bing Crosby providing the vocals. What’s not to love?

14. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
It’s rather hard to say who’s the real star of this funny live-action version: is it Jim Carrey or Dr. Seuss?

15. Holiday Inn
Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire celebrate a year’s worth of holidays, against a steady flow of Irving Berlin tunes.

16. The Muppet Christmas Carol
The Muppet adaptation of the classic story is fun, sweet, and definitely appropriate for the whole family.

17. Scrooged
The Bill Murray renaissance began with his turn as ultimate crank Frank Cross. A Solid Gold Dancers cameo helps get the lesson across.

18. Christmas in Connecticut
A war hero has Christmas dinner with the Martha Stewart-esque Barbara Stanwyck (who actually can’t cook) in this holiday farce.

19. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s enchanting tale has all the familiar, er, bones of a holiday classic — love, redemption, and Santa.

20. Bad Santa
Full of expletives and sexual innuendos, Bad Santa upends the feel-good tradition

Donations Large & Small Help

It’s a Christmas tradition across Canada and the United States. Volunteers ring the bells beside Salvation Army Kettles at stores and malls to raise funds to help the needy.

Most of the donations are small, a handful of change or a few dollars. But every year there are heart-warming stories of more generous contributions dropped into the kettles. Scratch-off lottery tickets are commonly dropped into the kettles, usually these are worth $10 or $20.

Sometimes a generous donor drops in a gold coin, worth well more than its face value.

salvation-army-kettlesThis year, someone dropped a winning $1,000 lottery ticket into a Salvation Army kettle at an Erie, Pennsylvania, Walmart store.

“The Christmas season often brings out the best in people,” said Lottery Executive Director Drew Svitko. “It’s heartwarming to hear stories such as this one, and I applaud this anonymous winner for turning their good fortune into an act of charity that will benefit the community.”

Leslie Walter of the Salvation Army in Erie said scratch-off donations are nothing new, but one this sizeable is almost unheard of. “We’ve received donations of winning instant tickets in the past, but they’re usually in an amount of $10 or $20 – never something of this size,” said Walter. “We are very grateful for this generous donation, which will help us to serve people and families in need.”

Last year, a Minnesota couple made a $500,000 donation to the Salvation Army, saying they had endured hard times and wanted to help others facing dark days during the holiday season. The donors, who wished to remain anonymous, dropped the half-a-million-dollar check into one of the charity’s red kettles, setting a Minneapolis record for a single donation to the Salvation Army.

Whatever you can spare will be appreciated and put to good use in your community. Help the Salvation Army help your community. Give generously.

Why We Say Such Strange Things

When we use phrases such as “white elephant” or “read the riot act,” most likely we are unaware of the origins of the phrases, though we understand their accepted meaning. A bit of background can shed light on our usage.

Turn a Blind Eye. The phrase is used to refer to a willful refusal to acknowledge a particular reality. It dates back to a legendary chapter in the career of the British naval hero Horatio Nelson. During 1801’s Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson’s ships were pitted against a large Danish-Norwegian fleet. When his more conservative superior officer flagged for him to withdraw, the one-eyed Nelson supposedly brought his telescope to his bad eye and blithely proclaimed, “I really do not see the signal.” He went on to score a decisive victory. Some historians have since dismissed Nelson’s famous quip as merely a battlefield myth, but the phrase “turn a blind eye” persists to this day.

whiteelephantWhite Elephant. White elephants were once considered highly sacred creatures in Thailand – the animal even graced the national flag until 1917 – but they were also wielded as a subtle form of punishment. According to legend, if an underling or rival angered a Siamese king, the royal might present the unfortunate man with the gift of a white elephant. While ostensibly a reward, the creatures were tremendously expensive to feed and house, and caring for one often drove the recipient into financial ruin. Whether any specific rulers actually bestowed such a passive-aggressive gift is uncertain, but the term has since come to refer to any burdensome possession – pachyderm or otherwise.

Crocodile Tears. Modern English speakers use this phrase to describe a display of superficial or false sorrow, but the saying actually derives from a medieval belief that crocodiles shed tears of sadness while they killed and consumed their prey. The myth dates back as far as the 14th century and comes from a book called “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.” The book, quite popular upon its release, recounts a brave knight’s adventures during his supposed travels through Asia. Among its many fabrications, the book includes a description of crocodiles that notes, “These serpents sley men, and eate them weeping, and they have no tongue.” While factually inaccurate, Mandeville’s account of weeping reptiles later found its way into the works of Shakespeare, and “crocodile tears” became an idiom as early as the 16th century.

Diehard. While it typically refers to someone with a strong dedication to a particular set of beliefs, the term originally had a series of much more literal meanings. In its earliest incarnation in the 1700s, the expression described condemned men who struggled the longest when they were executed by hanging. The phrase later became even more popular after 1811’s Battle of Albuera during the Napoleonic Wars. In the midst of the fight, a wounded British officer named William Inglis supposedly urged his unit forward by bellowing “Stand your ground and die hard … make the enemy pay dear for each of us!” Inglis’ 57th Regiment suffered 75 percent casualties during the battle, and went on to earn the nickname “the Die Hards.”

Resting On Laurels. The idea of resting on your laurels dates back to leaders and athletic stars of ancient Greece. In Hellenic times, laurel leaves were closely tied to Apollo, the god of music, prophecy and poetry. Apollo was usually depicted with a crown of laurel leaves, and the plant eventually became a symbol of status and achievement. Victorious athletes at the ancient Pythian Games received wreaths made of laurel branches, and the Romans later adopted the practice and presented wreaths to generals who won important battles. Venerable Greeks and Romans, or “laureates,” were thus able to “rest on their laurels” by basking in the glory of past achievements. Only later did the phrase take on a negative connotation, and since the 1800s it has been used for those who are overly satisfied with past triumphs.

Read the Riot Act. Angry parents might “read the riot act” to their unruly children. But in 18th century England, the Riot Act was a real document, and it was often recited aloud to angry mobs. Instituted in 1715, the Riot Act gave the British government the authority to label any group of more than 12 people a threat to the peace. In these circumstances, a public official would read a small portion of the Riot Act and order the people to “disperse themselves, and peaceably depart to their habitations.” Anyone that remained after one hour was subject to arrest or removal by force. The law was put to the test in 1819 during the infamous Peterloo Massacre, in which a cavalry unit attacked a large group of protestors after they appeared to ignore a reading of the Riot Act.

By and Large. Many everyday phrases are nautical in origin – “taken aback,” “loose cannon” and “high and dry” all originated at sea – but perhaps the most surprising example is the common saying “by and large.” As far back as the 16th century, the word “large” was used to mean that a ship was sailing with the wind at its back. Meanwhile, the much less desirable “by,” or “full and by,” meant the vessel was traveling into the wind. Thus, for mariners, “by and large” referred to trawling the seas in any and all directions relative to the wind. Today, sailors and landlubbers alike now use the phrase as a synonym for “all things considered” or “for the most part.”

The Third Degree. There are several tales about the origin of “the third degree,” a saying commonly used for long or arduous interrogations. One theory contends the phrase relates to the various degrees of murder in the criminal code; yet another credits it to Thomas F. Byrnes, a 19th century New York City policeman who used the pun “Third Degree Byrnes” when describing his hardnosed questioning style. In truth, the saying is most likely derived from the Freemasons, a centuries-old fraternal organization whose members undergo rigorous questioning and examinations before becoming “third degree” members, or “master masons.”